CMH Gourmand

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

First Bite: Bar 145 (A Dual Review)

Posted by cmh gourmand on January 28, 2014

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I have long wanted to do reviews with more than just my spin on things. Think about Siskel & Ebert or American Idol style restaurant reviews. I always thought more perspectives equate to better information. I finally had my opportunity to try this out when I had a chance encounter with one of my 43 fans. Karl M. dined with me at Bar 145 and I asked him for his view of things and he delivered some fine prose. His review and comments will be in italics and mine will be in bold or regular font. I hope you enjoy this spin on things and if you would like to give this a whirl with me sometime, e-mail me at CMHGourmand@gmail.com


Serendipity — it’s more than just a 2001 movie starring John Cusack. This past December I brought my wife out to German Village for a date during the annual Village Lights Christmas open house. As we walked along the snowy, bustling sidewalks, we came across a booth for Columbus Food Adventures and Columbus Brew Adventures. The name was faintly familiar, so I inquired of the gentleman behind the table.

“Do you happen to know the author of the CMH Gourmand blog?”
“Yes,” he responded, “I’m the author, Jim”.

Serendipity, how you delight me. You see, when I first moved to Columbus in 2008, one of my first priorities was learning more about my new city. Stumbling across the CMH Gourmand website was a true blessing and has inspired many a food adventure. I was excited to meet Jim and to thank him for helping me appreciate the amazing culinary diversity and opportunity here in central Ohio. Having now met him in the flesh, I asked him about meeting for lunch sometime and after a little back and forth we settled on a new gastropub in the Grandview / 5th by Northwest area called Bar 145. It is an honor to be able to share my perspective, however pedestrian, on Jim’s blog.

I’m a details-oriented kind of guy and whenever I go into a restaurant it’s always the little things that catch my eye. Bar 145, set back in the new plaza on 5th Avenue that also houses Romeo’s Pizza and Firehouse Subs, is a very pleasant place to have lunch. The decor is an interesting mix of what I consider to be industrial and modern. There’s a subtle scarlet and gray thing going on too between the color and material choices (dark red and lots of exposed metal). The location features a good-sized bar, a wall full of windows, a sizable patio and even an upstairs loft seating area. With a view into the kitchen and free wifi, there’s plenty to keep you entertained.

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Upon being seated, the servers helpfully explained what exactly a gastropub was (a bar with a menu crafted by a chef), and pointed out a few of the highlights on the one-page food menu. Not being much of a drinker myself, I bypassed the drink menu and focused on the food. Immediately several items caught my eye, including Bavarian pretzel bites (being the good German that I am) and Poutine fries with truffle, duck confit, gravy and cheese curds. Eventually we both ordered the make-your-own burger (a $5 Wednesday special) and a few dishes to share – the pretzel bites, the fries and the bar wings.

My burger, a meat patty with artisan lettuce, goat cheese, mayo, bourbon steak sauce and tomato on a pretzel bun, was good, but didn’t blow me away. Jim and I both agreed that while the condiments stood out, the meat was stoic and was just that — a meat patty. For $5, I’d definitely get it again, but Thurman’s, you still have my heart.

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Both Karl and I liked the build your own burger option and with a checklist to help and the special $5 Wednesday price it was irresistible to us both. One of the options was artisan lettuce which intrigues both of us. Outside the lettuce, we tried to work as a team to sample as many different options on the burger as possible. I opted for this on my burger: beef patty, pretzel bun, artisan lettuce, pickle chips, cucumber relish, spicy bourbon mustard, cheese and chicago style BBQ sauce. I requested the burger 145 style which I would describe as medium raw. Next time, I’ll get the burger medium well. The whole was greater than the sum of the parts with this burger. I liked everything but the hamburger patty itself. It lacked any flavor, it could have been a veggie burger for all I could tell. I kept waiting to see Gordon Ramsey or Robert Irvine burst through the kitchen shouting “you call that a burger, where is the salt and pepper and the bloody flavor man!”

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The warm Bavarian pretzel bites, though good, weren’t what I was expecting. The menu describes them as “Butter Baked Pretzel Roll Bites, garnished with Chopped Bacon & served with Cheddar Chive Sauce.” Once again, Jim and I, clearly both great minds that think alike, commented on the fact that the pretzel bites were more like toast. They were tasty, especially paired with the cheddar chive sauce, but not satisfying if you were excited about pretzels. In addition, the pretzel buns – thick nuggets of soft toast that kind of look like a pretzel – didn’t really taste like one. Admittedly, I did finish them all.

Karl was spot on with the pretzel bites. The sauce was great but I felt that I was the victim of a bait and switch, I could consider the bites to be toasted bits of bread.

The loaded fries were served poutine style — that is, covered with gravy. This was my first experience with gravy and fries and I must say, it was delightful. Similar to the pretzel bites, the fries were good in a surprising sort of way. The menu painted an exotic picture of ducks wading in a stream lined with truffles. Instead, all I tasted were decent fries smothered in gravy. Definitely tasty, but not the destination fries that I was expecting. If anything, it heightened my desire to try other poutine-style fries. Any fry would be hard-pressed to dethrone the current king in my book – the fries at Loops.

In my eyes – the fries were good but again, the bait and switch effect was in. I can’t say I think much of the truffle oil fad/trend so I did not order the fries for that. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to find I could not taste any truffle in the fries. The gravy was OK and I’ve never met a cheese curd that I did not consume” but this was probably the weakest poutine I have ever encountered and might make a Montreal native mildly irked.

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The bar wings — now those were fantastic! I’m not much of a bone-in wing guy, more of a BW3 boneless wing special sorta gent. These wings are far and away the best I’ve ever had. The skin was crisp and as you bit in there was a little heat followed by the meat literally falling off the bone. Next time I might just order the wings. They managed to put together a great tasting wing without resorting to smothering it in sauce. If your thing is to find the hottest wings around, these aren’t it. But if you are looking for a tasty bit of chicken wing and don’t mind just a touch of heat, definitely check these out.

While described as wings on the menu, these are really legs (as was pointed out to me by an astute observer of the obvious). These were fabulous and I would say the top three in the deep-fried wing/leg category in our fair city. Four legs (wings) cost $12.00 which is little steep in my book.

In conclusion, Bar 145 is a nice addition to the neighborhood. The only truly noteworthy dish that from my must-have food perspective were the wings. Granted, the menu boasted some potential winners that I didn’t get a chance to try — the apple pie burger, for example, or chicken and waffles. I could see myself returning for the burger special or to sit on the patio when the weather is nice – especially if it’s a chance to hang out with Jim. It’s a good addition to the 5th by Northwest corridor as it continues to experience a recent revitalization.


At the end of our meal Karl and I were pleased with the overall experience but felt we may have missed out on what Bar 145 excels at. After extensive quizzing of our server I decided I needed to return for the Chicken and Waffles, Coffee and Donuts and another order of the wing/legs. My report on trip two is below. But first let me digress by bringing a new term to your attention.

I first encountered the term Gas Bro Pub while engaged in conversation with three of the foremost lady experts in the field of food and beer analysis. I will not name which of the three threw out the term but as soon as I heard it, I thought of Bar 145. When you visit, think of what that term says to you and them let me know if that diagnosis is accurate.


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Now on to my second trip. I sauntered up to the bar and made the order you see listed above. Initially I was concerned about whether I could finish so much food. Fortunately for my girth and constitution the portions sizes were much smaller than I expected.

First, let me begin with my second order of the wing/legs. These were just as good as the first, maybe better because I felt I had a bit more sauce with these. These four legs were damn good. There is shredded carrot slaw underneath which is a bit bland, but when mixed in with any remaining blue cheese dressing from the wing/legs becomes a great dish by itself.

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As for the chicken and waffles. Overall I would say meh. However, there are some real gems in this dish. The side of macaroni with cheese meets expectations but the pairing of tasty bacon with the mac bumps things up a notch from mediocre. The fried chicken part of the chicken and waffles was really good. The chicken was juicy and tender and the breading was perfect. This may have been the best fried chicken I have had in town for a couple of years. The waffles were nothing to blog home about and the syrup tasted cheap and watery. All in all, it would be a good meal at $10 but I felt gouged at $12 for 1 1/2 chicken breasts, 1/2 of a waffle and a small side of mac and cheese.

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Last and somewhat least is the coffee and donuts. I was excited about this offering and had hoped for something to add to the Ohio Donut Trail. The coffee was really good, and that says a lot because I am not much of a coffee drinker. It had an added surprise of what looked and tasted like a giant junior mint floating on top of it. The donuts, would be what I would call fried dough croutons. They were small, hard, yet chewy squares of dough about the size of a 50 cent piece. These were good but overpriced and not what I would consider a donut.

All in all. I like Bar 145 and what they have to offer. I do want to try some more dishes and I’d gladly go back for the wing/legs and the Wednesday $5 build your own burger special. If you are looking for your first Gas Bro Pub experience and want it to be a good one, this is the place to go. At the time of this writing, Bar 145 has been open less than a month so I anticipate that it will improve and refine over time.

Bar 145 on Urbanspoon

Posted in bar, beer, hamburgers, restaurants | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

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

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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 »

 
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