CMH Gourmand

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

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  • Archives: August 2006 to Now

Ray Ray’s Revisited: The Good, The Bad and The Yummy

Posted by cmh gourmand on January 17, 2014

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I seem to have a tradition to write about Ray Ray’s once per year. So I’ll start early for 2014. Let’s get the bad over with. Ray Ray’s Chicken Wing Shack is no more. The project had a good run and created some of the best wings in town, but it is no more. RIP Ray Ray’s Chicken Wings.

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Chicken lovers, don’t be downtrodden but instead rejoice, for out of the ashes like a phoenix has risen a new menu item. The Pulled Chicken BBQ sandwich with Pineapple Cabbage Slaw. Oh Boy! This is a phenomenal combination. It is available Fridays and I have had it on a Sunday too. The chicken is cooked well and shredded to ease the chewing process. The slaw has plenty of fresh shredded purple cabbage mixed with a bit of pineapple to accentuate and compliment the sweet flavors from the house made BBQ sauce. This sandwich is the total package. It is a great addition to the menu.

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Everything else that we love about Ray Ray’s continues as always. There is still easy access to the Ace of Cups patio and interior so you don’t have to eat on the run.

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

Portia’s Cafe

Posted by cmh gourmand on January 10, 2014

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There is a chance you made a New Year’s Resolution to eat more mindfully or with a healthy focus. Or maybe you are a vegan or have a gluten intolerance and find dining out a frustrating experience. Regardless of your path, if you are looking for the most alternative way to dine in Columbus, Portia’s has you covered.

The street address is a little less than ideal but the location is well suited for the mission of the cafe. Clintonville is home to the oldest Vegetarian restaurant in the city, Whole World Natural Bakery and Restaurant. If there would ever be a community that would and could embrace Portia’s it would be Clintonville.

With the exception of honey most Vegans would find that cafe would find acceptable. The ingredients used are largely organic, generally free of gluten and GMO’s (genetically modified organisms). The Cafe has assembled a menu that is accessible for carnivores and raw foods fans alike. Now at this point, I think some of you may be a little intimidated and wondering how you would fit in eating all of this “weird food”. Well, if you had to pick a place for your first foray off the eaten path, than Portia’s is the place to dine. The staff are friendly and knowledgable and answer inquiries in a way that you know there really are no dumb questions. Even the menu is helpful, with instructions on how to eat a lettuce wrap. Another example of the philosophy of Portia’s is the approach to ice. Water is served but ice is only added on request (a good bartender or foodie will tell you some of the possible health issues related to ice makers).

As for the food some of what I tried was really good and some was average. Nothing tasted like leaves and twigs which for many would be a surprise but hopefully this will give some the courage to try Portia’s as their gateway meal to healthy eating.

For your first bite, I would suggest the appetizer sampler which will allow you to choose a selection of small bites to try out before you move forward in the menu.

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Portia's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Posted in Clintonville, restaurants, Vegetarian Friendly | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Brown Bag Deli: Deli-icious

Posted by cmh gourmand on January 6, 2014

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In the tale of the two deli’s of German Village, the story has been lopsided to Katzinger’s. It is a saga of north vs. south. Katzinger’s is the destination Deli on the main drag. Brown Bag is tucked away in a side corner on Whitter on the south end of German Village. Brown Bag is smaller and offers a more limited selection but it feels like an insider’s secret hangout.

What does Brown Bag bring to the table? It serves up much more than the name would suggest.

Take a look at the menu board above. In addition to a wide selections of sandwiches (cold, hot, toasted, grilled, vegan, vegetarian and more), you can build you own sandwich, choose from a selection of salads, soups, flatbreads, homemade sides and more. The sides are more than the typical potato and macaroni salad. The fresh selection of sides varies and it is always challenging to decide on just one. Deviled eggs are a standby and always in good supply. The dessert choices are deeper than one would expect from a kitchen this size. I’ve never encountered a dessert here that I did not like.

A few other options deserve a shout out. Brown Bag has the largest variety of gourmet potato chips I have encountered outside of Jungle Jim’s in Cincinnati. The same applies to the number of gourmet craft soda pop to choose from. If you want ice cream, you can always find a pint of Jeni’s in the cold case.

The Brown Bag may be the Cinderella of German Village eateries and area delis, but it is well worth repeat visits.

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Brown Bag Deli on Urbanspoon

Brown Bag Web Site

Posted in beverages, restaurants, Vegetarian Friendly | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

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

Posted by cmh gourmand on January 1, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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 »

Little Sicily’s: Pizza Worth The Drive

Posted by cmh gourmand on December 29, 2013

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The far east side is a bit of a wasteland when it comes to destination dining. There is no lack of choices, there are plenty of chains to choose from but nothing exceptional comes to mind when I mentally walk through my options for that quadrant of town. Years ago, I had friends who lived in Pickerington and the far, far east end of Broad Street. One was in town for the holidays and when we were looking at options to meet up, he suggested Little Sicily’s Pizza.

I had forgotten about this place. In days past, Little Sicily’s was consistently in my top ten list. I had their pizza countless times as carry out while visiting friends. I’d never dined in before and it had been years so I was ready to rediscover the place. Little Sicily’s is tucked in a very modest building near the intersection of Brice and Refugee Roads. It was so busy, I was unable to find parking and had to get creative to secure a suitable spot nearby. The inside is as unassuming as the outside, there are a few simple tables, some nick knacks on the walls with a few TV’s mixed in. All of the customers were long time regulars who the servers knew by name.

The menu is streamlined with a few choices: pizzas, sandwiches, salads, spaghetti with meatballs and lasagna. The only surprise on the menu was a gluten-free crust option. I wish I could elaborate more about the food but the only combination I have ever had is a large pizza with pepperoni, sausage and extra cheese. The extra cheese option makes for some serious thickness and weight. The sausage is thick and chunky. The pepperoni’s are liberally applied on top and sometimes layered on top of each other 2 to 3 slices deep. The crust and sauce are non-descript but serve as a suitable delivery method for the toppings.

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Little Sicily’s has been an institution in Brice since 1975 and exceeds the expectations of a typical neighborhood pizza joint. I typically avoid the Brice Road area with a vengeance but if I was within 15 minutes of Little Sicily’s, I would be strongly tempted to call in an order. The tagline on the menu is “The Pizza Worth The Drive” and from my observations, it looks like a lot of people make that choice.

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Little Sicily’s Pizza
2965 Brice Road
Brice, OH
614 868 1937

Little Sicily's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Posted in food | Leave a Comment »

Back to Kuhlwein’s for a Sub

Posted by cmh gourmand on December 25, 2013

In the summer I wrote about my trip to Kuhlwein’s in Hilliard in search of their spectacular sub sandwich I had heard so much about. I vowed I would head back to try it sometime and I did have a chance to do so last week. Looking at their deli counter, I was convinced I had missed out again but I was happy to discover that they had plenty of ingredients in the back room to make one for me. As part of the occasional Sub Dude series I feel a duty to find the best sub in town. So far I think Susie’s Sub Shop and Neighbors Deli are in the lead but Kuhlwein’s is in the running for top 5.

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So let’s break down a few of the basics of a good sub first. As important as what is in between the bun is the bun itself. Good bread is the foundation for a great sandwich. For a hot sub, the key is to toast the bread just enough that it is crunchy but not too hard. If cheese is a component, I prefer that is cooked just enough to burn a bit on the edge of the bun so you can taste the burnt cheese and still enjoy the gooey melted mass in the middle.

Kuhlwein’s meets these criteria when they craft a sub. So what else do they do well? The ingredients are (mostly) fresh. The only disappointing part of the sub is the lettuce. Kuhlwein’s gets the most out of their product by shredding it finely to extend the life of the lettuce. This adds bulk to the sub but no flavor. I would say this is neither a plus or a minus just a break even.

The meats are freshly cut and each sub is made to order. Perhaps most importantly, the sub makers practice an art that I learned long ago at my first job. When making a sub, you want to heat the bun, meat and cheese, but let some of the ingredients stay cold – such as the sauces, tomato, onion, and etc. Kuhlwein’s does a fine job of balancing the yin and yang of hot and cold on their sub. I also like the combination of mayonnaise and house dressing on the sub. Another addition is a very non traditional sprinkling of black olives.

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And Kuhlwein’s is still one of a handful of places that carry Jami’s Cheesecakes – which is always a welcome dessert option.

Posted in Sub Dude | 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 »

Back in the Saddle: An Ice Cream Essay

Posted by cmh gourmand on December 6, 2013

I finally have time to start freelance writing again. We begin with what I started with years ago – ice cream. Thank you 614 Magazine for the opportunity.

Ice Cream essay from 614 December issue.

Posted in ice cream | Leave a Comment »

First Bite: Jerry’s Galaxy Cafe

Posted by cmh gourmand on November 30, 2013


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Long time readers know about my fond memories of the Galaxy Cafe which closed years ago. Starliner Diner and The Explorer’s Club have Galaxy connections in their kitchen DNA. So when I heard that Jerry Burgos, co-founder of the original Galaxy Cafe and long time driving force at the Starliner Diner, was opening a new place I was curious to see how this new restaurant would compare to my memories. Jerry sold his share in Starliner about 4 years ago but wanted to come back into the business of owning a restaurant and running a kitchen.

This new incantation in the Galaxy Universe opened in mid-November. Long time fans will find the elements they associate with the name. The fare will be comforting to Starliner and Explorer’s Club fans. Most of the dishes are southwestern / Cuban themed eclectic classics. The decor is a hodgepodge of folk art, flea market and cool cookie jars mixed with bright walls and black and white checkered ceiling tiles.

Jerry has teamed up with his wife Jenny and a small staff to add the Galaxy to the dining choices of Hilliard. This is good news for people like me who feel that there are only a few good dining choices west of the Scioto (Olive Tree and Starliner Diner for me). However Jerry has some challenges to face with this new location so old-time fans that have been thinking about dropping in could give this new business a great holiday gift by dropping in before Christmas. Challenge number one is location. Jerry’s Galaxy is buried in a semi-residential area off the beaten path in Hilliard. It does not have a sign (look for City Kids Daycare to know you are close). It is near a bar names Nasty’s (really) ((Really??)) and the Lil’ Donut Factory (which often runs out of donuts). Challenge number two – the menu at the Galaxy is about the same as the Starliner and Louie’s (a Starliner spin-off) so they are competing against two mirroring concepts that are both less than one mile away.

As a new business that has only been open a few weeks there are a few glitches to tweak. Service was a bit spotty on my visit. The volume of the music is too loud, especially when the spaces are quiet. The menu is familiar but could use more detailed descriptions of some dishes. And the coffee cups are too small and too thin to offer an optimal coffee experience one expects at a diner.

All food sampled was good and worthy of the Galaxy name I just hope that Jerry will get the business needed in the early months to have a full opportunity show what he can do in the back of the house.

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Jerry’s Galaxy Cafe
4920 Scioto-Darby Road
Hilliard
614-319-4035

Jerry's Galaxy Cafe on Urbanspoon

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

 
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