Posted by cmh gourmand on January 1, 2014
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.
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 »
Posted by cmh gourmand on December 31, 2013
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.
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.
Posted in bar, beer, pizza, restaurants, Vegetarian Friendly | Tagged: Columbus Brewing Company Restaurant | Leave a Comment »
Posted by cmh gourmand on December 29, 2013
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.
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.
Little Sicily’s Pizza
2965 Brice Road
614 868 1937
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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.
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.
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 »
Posted by cmh gourmand on December 9, 2013
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.
Posted in Columbus, Columbus style pizza, pizza | Tagged: Iaconos | Leave a Comment »
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 »
Posted by cmh gourmand on November 30, 2013
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.
Jerry’s Galaxy Cafe
4920 Scioto-Darby Road
Posted in Diners, restaurants | Tagged: Galaxy Cafe, Jerry's Galaxy Cafe | Leave a Comment »
Posted by cmh gourmand on November 13, 2013
I have written about Latitude 41 before. As a quick recap, the restaurant is located in the Renaissance Hotel downtown. While many people have low expectations for hotel restaurants, the Renaissance and their culinary partner Chef Dean Max, have very high expectations. The hotel sourced several very impressive chefs to date, including one of my personal favorites the departed (and missed) Chef David MacLennan. (Note: The downtown Hilton has Bill Glover at the helm so hotel restaurants in Columbus are bringing back the hey day when hotels restaurants were THE destination for diners).
Michael Koenig became executive chef at Latitude 41 in July. He brings over 20 years of culinary experience to the kitchen. Restaurants on his resume include these bay area notables: Café Delluchi Kuleto’s Restaurant, Scala’s Bistro, Restaurant Zibibbo (Palo Alto) and the Renaissance Stanford Court Hotel restaurant. Some local residents will want to know that he attended Michigan State University so we know the chef is well grounded in midwestern palates and football etiquette. The chef credits his mother and her Lebanese heritage for teaching him about food and ingredients. As with previous chefs at the restaurant, he is committed to sourcing local where possible and integrating those flavors into dishes. I had an opportunity to sample a tasting dinner with the Chef and I was very impressed with what he had to dish out.
Chef Koenig continues to source local when possible and plans to expand on that commitment with a larger roof top garden and if the stars align – a chicken coop for fresh eggs for the restaurant. If that happens, I hope to write about that and hope not to report that a chicken tried to swim in the Renaissance’s pool. Chef is also looking into adding a beehive to the mix on the rooftop. I like how he thinks.
A few notable local purveyors featured in the menu. Watershed bourbon is a star ingredient in the house made caramel sauce. Empty Watershed bottles were used for water at our table which was a nice aesthetic and good repurposing to boot. SaraBee Honey is also incorporated into some of the dishes for sweet results.
Favorites from previous menus will continue including the Lobster Mac & Cheese but we should expect to see some changes in the menu as well as weekly specials based on what is fresh and in season. I have always enjoyed the flat breads at Latitude 41 however I now look forward to rediscovering them since Chef Koenig has changed the dough recipe and is focused on the dough being prepped by hand instead of rolling pin….that is old school and should make a good thing even better. Chef Koenig has interests outside of the kitchen as well. He has an interest in making mixers for the bar and makes an excellent Limoncello, both regular and creamy.
I asked the Chef, how his transition has been to Columbus. I know for me, if I was in the bay area as long as he was, I would have a little trouble transitioning to the Midwest. Chef reports that he has adapted quite easily to life in the capital city, he has discovered some fine restaurants and as well known, the cost of living is much more palatable. He also enjoys being a 4 1/2 hour drive from family instead of a transcontinental flight. Welcome to Columbus Chef, I look forward to the new ideas you bring to the table.
Latitude 41 website
Posted in beverages, Locally Sourced, restaurants | Tagged: Chef Michael Koenig, Latitude 41 | Leave a Comment »
Posted by cmh gourmand on November 10, 2013
I’ve written about O’Reilly’s before. My feelings about the pepper burger are well-known. And other than a pepper burger a side of sweet potato fries and an interest in their daily specials I have never tried, I had little more to write about this favored dive bar.
That is until I tried their wings. I am not sure how the wings escaped by roving eye. Well, actually, I know how they escaped. I don’t have much ardor for wings. I find them frequently disappointing. In our city, I can not think of many wings worth the effort. Roosters are pretty good. Barley’s Smokehouse brines, smokes and grills their wings, it is a lot of extra work but the end result is very good. I did have wings at the original Anchor Bar, I liked those, as much for the tradition as the taste. I can’t think of any other wings that have made an impression.
If you know of a place that does serve really good wings, let me know.
So a few words about the wings at O’Reilly’s. They are sold by the pound. They are large and meaty. They are deep-fried to a fine crispness. And they are densely breaded. The breading holds the sauce to the wings, so that it clings to the entirety of the surface. I tried the “Scott’s style” which is extra hot, but not painfully so. They are typically served with extra sides of chunky blue cheese sauce. Not too hot but really close to being too hot to handle. My intuition and taste buds suspect that the wings may have been liberally dosed with Franks Red Hot Sauce or something from that family. Other than the 25 cent wing special of decades ago at the fabulous Mill Tavern (Wilson Mills Road) in Cleveland, I can’t think of another wing I wanted to go back and have the next day. I want 2 lbs. of O’Reilly’s wings right now but probably one lb. of wild and one lb. of mild – which are far from that – the mild are served traditional buffalo style with a dab of heat.
Posted in Clintonville | Tagged: O'Reilly's | 1 Comment »
Posted by cmh gourmand on November 7, 2013
I have had a while to peruse North Market Cookbook – Recipes and Stories from Columbus Ohio’s Historic Public Market. It is written by Michael Turback, a well-known food focused writer. The forward is written by former Dispatch food editor, Robin Davis, the writer of the first North Market Cookbook. There are no surprises in this book – it provides a quick history of the market and recipes from many of the vendors, growers and personalities of the market. Local chefs and mixologists contribute to book as well.
What I like the best about the book – it is constructed to survive a kitchen or getting crushed on the couch with a slick cover and fold outs front and back for marking pages. There are over 100 recipes to choose from in six major areas: soups, small plates, salads and sides, main dishes, desserts and ending with beverages and cocktails. The best way to use this book to turn to the back and look for the names of your favorite purveyors or chefs and/or to look at the sections one by one instead of getting lost going through the book page by page.
If you have a favorite restaurant in town and a favorite North Market vendor then you are guaranteed to find a recipe that you will want to make and more importantly, that you will be able to make. Nothing is overly complicated or driven by extreme ingredients. If you are a North Market regular this cookbook would be a good fit for your bookshelf or kitchen counter.
Posted in culinary knowledge, markets | Tagged: North Market Cookbook | Leave a Comment »