CMH Gourmand – Eating in Columbus & Ohio

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Goremade Pizza (A Great Place if You “Get It”)

Posted by cmh gourmand on January 2, 2018

Ultimately any eatery is about food. But a great restaurant, food purveyor, etc., is more than the sum of the parts. A great place is more about the food. For some that je ne sais quoi, is a collective approach to service or a favorite server. At others it may be offering something hard to find elsewhere and raising the bar of quality well beyond the bar. And sometimes it is about the collective community of customers, employees and neighborhood that create something beyond what is on the menu.

I have had a few of this type of place, you might even call it a hang out in my lifetime. Most of my “hot spots” were in the 1990’s: Galaxy Cafe, Lost Planet Pizza & Pasta, Niki’s, Cancun, Fresno, Dagwoodz and the original Nancy’s. All of these places are just memories now. Today the best example I can think of is Thurns – a place where you can set back in time to get forgotten types of meats and irreplaceable banter and knowledge from three generations of butchers.

I’m adding a new place to this list, Goremade Pizza. Nick the owner and maestro of pizzas has created something at Goremade which exemplifies the concept of a whole being greater than the parts. Goremade, is a bit of a play on words of Gourmet. Nick the owner, does have a gourmet approach to ingredients but his vision of Goremade goes well beyond what he puts on the plate.

At some subconscious level, Nick has created an atmosphere that provides a Cheers vibe. They may not always remember your name, but they are very glad you came. Conversation flows between those on all sides of the counter. Goremade tends to act as a magnet for people who like to talk about food almost as much as they like to eat it. The conversations don’t just stick to making pizzas, you are as likely to talk about making patios, figuring out how to make charcuterie board with some foraged black walnut or how to connect with the community. Guests hang out as much as come in to dine. Some might opt to have a drink on the patio after a pizza while others may play a board game at the bar.

Nick offers some standard menu items but to really invest in the full Goremade experience, you should devote at least one half of your order to a leap of faith into the world of culinary exploration and allow him to create something for you. Nick sources from many local farmers as well as some non traditional ingredients for pizza combinations which at the mildest would be described as wildly creative. Exploration is not limited to pizzas. The bar features about one dozen house made infusions often combing concoctions from local distiller 451 Spirits as the base. The cocktails are exciting mixes of flavors including excellent small batch sodas from Forged and Sown. Throughout the food and drink menu the underlying theme to to explore what one can do with flavors, ingredients and ideas. And in the process of exploring, we see what we can collectively learn about our food and ourselves.

But Goremade food is not fully focused on being all artisan and avant-garde, Nick is a craftsman as well. He built out much of what is in the space with materials often sourced from friends and family. The wood-fired oven, which goes by the name of Ferdinand would receive nods of approval from practitioners in New York and Naples alike. The size and shape of the oven limits mass production of pizzas, he can do about two at a time at full speed. However, what is missing in quantity is made up in quality. The oven maintains a steady, consistent temperature without wasting any wood. Nick coaxes out a bit extra from each crust and flavor with his attention to detail or eye for ingredient pairings.

At Goremade, guests can choose their own adventure. You can order, safe, sensible and traditional dishes or take a journey and see where it leads you. Either way you will feel the spirit of the space among of community of people who care about what they eat and who they eat with.

Goremade Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Posted in culinary knowledge, pizza | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Cakes & More (a lot more: Empanadas, Chivitos, Fried Chicken…….)

Posted by cmh gourmand on December 26, 2017

Cakes and More could not have a more cumbersome location. It is sandwiched between a tattoo parlor and a tobacco store in a dingy strip that also features Pita Hut and the cultural hub of the Midwest, Bob’s Bar. It is just north of the very busy Morse Road and High Street intersection. Attempting to turn into the small lot, heading northbound is a non option during any peak traffic times and a leap of faith dependent on the good will of southbound drivers at most other times.

The business has been open since 2011. I have a very vague memory of popping in to look at the counters after a trip to Pita Hut in the late summer of 2011. It was an odd interlude of my life so my memory of that time is hazy at best but I think I walked in, saw few offerings that interested me then walked back out to head home. It as a ten second introduction.

Flash forward to the late summer of 2017. A banner was added to the sign offering the unusual combination of Empanadas and Fried Chicken. As they say in the old timey picture shows….Hello Nurse! That is the kind of combination that would interest me very much. I finally made my first trip to investigate in November with very low expectations. However this time I immediately connected with the place. I saw display counters filled with mouth-watering cakes, cookies and confections. I spied traditional treats from Mexico as well as Central and South America. It surprised me to see a few continental classics including eclairs and Napoleons (aka mille-feuille). As I stood pondering my options, I spied several signs listing out sandwich options, empanada prices and a Friday grilled meat special. Cakes and More definitely fulfills the sweet and savory needs for this Gourmand. My intense study of everything caught the attention of the man at the counter, who happens to be the husband of the owner/baker/pastry chef. He hails from the Dominican Republic, so a few items from his homeland are featured. His wife’s background included roots in Argentina and Uruguay. The items showcased in the cases are a collection of favorites from their collective comfort food classics and travels.

I made three research visits to write this post. On each visit I have consumed empanadas and eclairs. The empanadas are $3 each or two for $5. I think they are the best I have had in Columbus. Fillings are either chicken of beef. The shell is flavorful and flakey with a great twisted crust. I think two for $5 is a great value and makes a filling meal. Having tried three eclairs on three occasions I can find no flaw in their execution and as long as there is one available it will be a default order on each visit.

I have only tried the Napoleon once (because they are rarely available). It is with the greatest confidence that I state it is the best I have had in my lifetime. As a child, there was a place forgotten to time where we bought Napoleons all the time and I loved them. These are even better and a good value at under $4 for a large piece.

A surprise discovery and the best value, is the Chaja. It is presented here a ball form of a traditional Uruguayan treat. I did not know what to expect when I bit into this ball but I was pleasantly surprised to consume a base that tasted like a fusion of cake and cookie with a dulce de leche center in the middle.

On my first visit I saw a sign for a Friday only Argentine Grill special. Having missed the consumption opportunity on my first two visits I figured the key to this experience is to pre-order the limited number prepared for the day. This special includes a grilled sausage, an expertly grilled cut of steak, a flavor-filled chimichurri sauce with a standard salad as well as a potato, carrot and pea salad. I enjoyed this dish but given the effort it took me to get it, I would be content to trade it for six empanadas.

I tried a small amount of the fried chicken because I was full of empanadas and eclairs. I decided to give the rest to my official fried chicken canary in the coal mine tester/expert. Some readers may be familiar with the Grumpy Old Man who is sometimes “forced” to go on my out of town missions to Southeast Ohio during and after which he complains about all the food I make him eat and the negative effects that high ABV beers have on his constitution and marriage. The Grumpy Old Man just happens to be a self-proclaimed Chicken Whore. His immediate diagnosis was that this was a fine representation of south of the border fried chicken. His endorsement was confirmed by his trip to Cakes and More for more fried chicken a few days later. His Puerto Rican wife found the fried chicken to be acceptable, which is a strong indicator of quality. Few things or people meet her standards so an acceptable opinion is a pretty big deal and a potential get out of jail card for his next offense.

Last but not least, one of the sandwich options is the Chivito. This combines thinly sliced and well grilled beef (churrasco), ham, bacon, cheese, boiled egg, sweet pickled red peppers, Heart of Palm, mayo, lettuce and tomato on fresh bread. If after reading that combination of ingredients your thought was “that sounds great”, you thought right. This sandwich has origins in Uruguay and I have not found it elsewhere in Ohio throughout my many travels.

As for the cakes, I have not tried any yet, but they all look good. As you have read, Cakes and More has much more that cakes. Here you can have your cake and eat more too.

Cakes and More Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posted in food | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

An Airing of Grievances for Festivus

Posted by cmh gourmand on December 23, 2017

December 23rd is the day Festivus is observed. An important part of this holiday tradition involves an airing of grievances. I embrace this tradition with great passion. I will not list out my very long list of personal grievances but I will detail one small subset of grievances as they relate to the realm of food & drink.

Some related musings can be found in previous posts Restaurant Rants and Restaurant Rants the Sequel.

1) Sportsball People that shout at TV’s

I’m not sure how it found its way into the constitution but a large segment of people seem to believe it is their god given right to scream at TV’s during sporting events. Usually with unnecessary loudness, vigor and typically laced with profanity. I will allow that if one is at a clearly designated sports bar and everyone at that establishment is clearly there to watch the same sporting event, then this type behavior is marginally acceptable but still juvenile and annoying. Such hooliganism in another environment and especially a restaurant where people have paid to eat a meal while enjoying the company of others, is not acceptable and it is indeed reprehensible. After the first offense the offending shout, the party should be asked to leave after paying the tab for anyone in earshot.

2) Large parties without reservations

There is many a weekend evening I have seen a large party amble in to a restaurant and expect to be seated immediately and served with great speed. Who do these people think they are? Reservations are both a courtesy and a practical step to improve the experience for those on both sides of the order.

2 a) These same people often exhibit other poor behaviors. Often they treat their dining area like their family room. They and their ilk exhibit space creep physically or through hooting, hollering and other uncouth behaviors spreading their lack of decorum to all that can see and hear them. When they leave, they typically tip poorly and leave a giant mess in their wake.


3) Loud talkers at restaurants and bars

A restaurant or bar is a public space. Yet, many find that for some unknown reason they have an inherent need to raise the volume from 5 to 10. For some, this change starts the moment they walk through the door, for others, it ramps up as each drink is quaffed.

4) Loud music at restaurants and bars

Continuing with the theme. There are few places where music adds to the ambiance. Where this does apply, using a muted, background music can create a pleasant white noise to mute some of the noise pollution caused by those that commit grievance number 3. There are so many places that have music cranked up but no one can hear it and often what is selected is just something the bartender likes not something that adds to the mood the business might want to create.

5) Different rules of engagement because one is drunk or buzzed

A sizable majority of people seem to feel that they are not accountable for being an asshole when they are drunk. In my experience, whatever annoying habit or personality issues a person brings to the table only amplifies when they are drunk. An asshole by any name or state of intoxication is still an asshole and accountable for it.

6) Family dining is not a license to trash your table

I have a high energy 29 month old. When we go out to eat, he makes a mess. We clean it up before we leave. We might miss a pea or two, but we always make the effort. Our server is not our servant. Many people I observe out and about have a different point of view.

7) Bartenders that do not tend the bar

I spend a lot of time in a lot of taprooms. The level of service varies significantly. There are many places that seem to invest no time training their staff and seem to do not value quality control on how their staff tend bar. People that were good at whack-a-mole as kids are usually pretty good bartenders. Good bartenders have an ability to observe the entire bar. Bad bartenders tend to focus only on what is right in front of them. Good bartenders prep and clean when they have downtime. Bad bartenders gaze at their phone when they have less than 2 customers waiting for a beverage. Good bartenders know their cocktails and craft beers and can ask a few questions to help you make a good first pick. Bad bartenders might pass you a menu if it is not inconvenient. Good bartenders make great tips. Bad bartenders lose a customer after the first long wait for a bad drink and cost their businesses they work for a lot in lost profitability.

8) Businesses that do not tend to their parking lots and bathrooms

I do not expect a restaurant or bar bathroom or parking lot to be immaculate or fully stocked all the time. However, when it is clear it has not been cleaned in days or weeks, it is usually a safe bet that other key things are being missed as well. The same applies to things like clearing out leaves, yard waste, etc. It might not be their businesses property but a mess still reflects on the business and attention to detail for the entire guest experience.

9) Resisting Recycling

There are not many good recycling options available or area restaurants and bars, but at bars in particular, when I see trash cans full or bottle and cans on their way to the trash, it breaks my heart.


10) Dogs in bars and taprooms / children in bars and taprooms

I am not against all dogs in all bars and taprooms. I am not against all children in all bars and taprooms. And I am not against all adults in each of these places. However, there are some adults, some children and some dogs that should never go to any of these places. And there are some places no creature should go to. To be safe, it is probably best that I be the sole arbitrator of these decisions.

11) cell phones

If you are in a public place, please don’t share your conversation with the rest of us. We don’t want to hear it. Don’t answer your phone. If you do go to the lobby or parking lot, or perhaps into the nearest street if you do need to have the conversation. Also, in a public place, place all of your tones, alarms, etc., on mute. And if you have an obnoxious YouTube video you want to share with everyone at your table, e-mail it, don’t play it at your table at high volume.

These are a FEW of my least favorite things.

Please feel free to air your own grievances here as comments.

Posted in Food For Thought | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Vick’s Gourmet Pizza, Reynoldsburg

Posted by cmh gourmand on December 21, 2017

Vick’s Gourmet Pizza has a history going back by name to 1961. It also has a pre history with the founders working at CY’s Pizza and 3C Pizza in 1958.

Doug Vickers’ is the current owner of Vicks. His parents, Hollis and Louise, opened the original Vick’s. Doug and his wife Charlotte took it over 36 years ago. Vicks moved to the current location in 2017, just two store front down from the original. Looking at old reviews, the new location is a BIG upgrade in space and atmosphere from the original. The new space is in the former location of Connell Hardware which started as a family business in 1872. The building has a lot of history to it with Vick’s incorporating the best elements of the space create a comfortable and inviting atmosphere. There is ample seating as well as a fully stocked bar seating area.

A local institution like Vick’s could get away with cutting a few corners but they don’t. Almost everything is made in house except the desserts. The dough is made fresh and hand tossed. The sauces are slow cooked. There is no sign of skimping on high quality ingredients.

I have sampled two pizzas. The extreme pepperoni which pairs dense layers of spicy and mild pepperoni. I also tried the Greek Pizza which tossed these ingredients together: Artichoke hearts, Black Olives, Sun-dried
Tomatoes wither Feta and Asiago cheeses. The pizza is a few millimeters thicker than the typical Columbus style pizza and the crust edge has a satisfying crunch that is neither to hard or crumbling. I discovered the kitchen uses a very high gluten flour which adds a bit to the density and flavor of the pizza dough.

I was even more impressed with the subs. The meatball sub was one of the best I have sampled. There was plenty of sauce and meatballs on the sandwich. The cheese was thick and dense with just a trace of char on the edges. The sauce was flavorful, well-seasoned and tasted slow cooked. The bun was sturdy and held up to the weight of the meatballs. Doing some deep research, I discovered the sub buns are shipped in from a highly respected bakery in Pittsburgh. The meatballs contain applesauce for moistness and the sauce is cooked with the sausage.

As I was walking out after my first visit, I commended Mr. Vickers on a very good meatball sub. He thanks me and then strongly suggested I try the Italian sub next time because the “capicola is out of this world”. When I tried the Italian sub on my next visit, I found it was perfectly cooked with a nice meat to cheese ratio but not over seasoned or dressed. The bottom bun had a trace of mayo thinly spread along the length to keep the bun from disintegrating from the grease.

I don’t have cause to visit Reynoldsburg in my day to day doings, but Vick’s is well worth the trip if you want subs and grub with a gourmet approach to quality ingredients.

Vick's Gourmet Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posted in pizza, restaurants, sandwiches | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Bono Pizza (or Jake 2.0)

Posted by cmh gourmand on December 8, 2017

Bono Pizza

(Update: This Bono location is slated to close January 31st 2018 – but the owners are looking for a new location and may run a mobile operation while in limbo).

Bono Pizza has a long, storied history of being found in the most unlikely of places. At the current (Jake 2.0) location, the tradition of improbable places continues. Today’s Bono is hidden in an apartment complex right next to another pizza place (Cowtown Pizza) and a bar. To better understand why this is not unusual new readers will need to go way back in time.

In 2008, I outlined some of the history of Bono and it’s first owner / visionary, Bill Yerkes. Bill is known for many things – some of which I should not put into print but it is indisputable that he is a pizza Picasso. He spent many years in Italy and used that time to perfect the art and craft of making pizza. After a return to central Ohio, he eventually set up near Delaware and developed a strong following. Then he made his way to the Short North where a cult-like following boosted Bono to new heights. After a long hiatus including a creative approach to crowdfunding called Bono Bucks, Bono 3.0 started in part of a convenience store in the Grandview / 5XNW area. This is where current owner Jake Wilch came on board as an apprentice of sorts. Towards the end of the lifespan of Bono 3.0 Jake was the full time owner and Bill faded into the sunset so to say. Mirroring his mentor, there was a bit of a hiatus between Bono 3.0 and 4.0. When the current location launched there were some fears it would sink, but Jake persevered and pizzaed on. Thank goodness.

It is hard to describe the Bono experience to non visitors. The whole is definitely greater than the sum of the parts. Bohemian does not fully reflect the spirit of the place but a new term I thought of comes close: Bono-hemian: “having informal and unconventional social habits” but formal training and intense passion in the art of pizza production.

Bono location

Bono features several tables, a giant Pac-man / Galaga combo sit down video game, quick access to the bar next door and other amenities like comic books to keep one occupied. The wood fired pizza oven is located near the rear door out of sight of customers. Jake did not miss a step at Bono (4.0). The pizzas and salads are as good as I remember them from Bonos past and as close to pizzas that I consumed in Naples and other parts of Italy (side note: Naples is a pit) in the past with a few upgrades. The focus on a quality dough and (pizza) peeling a nice bit of char in the bottom crust at Bono is great however the real game changer is Jake does not skimp on the quality of ingredients. Each item showcases the finest quality meats, cheeses and vegetables Jake can source. There are few meals where I savor every morsel of every bite as much as I do at Bono.

Here are a few examples to whet your appetite.

I never met a salad I did not want a second serving of at Bono. Ingredients are always fresh and complement each other. There are never too many items or too few flavors mixed together, they are always the right combination or everything

At one time or another I have sampled every Bono concoction. I’m fairly certain that one evening at the Short North location, I consumed one of every pizza on the menu with the dedicated help of the namesake of the San Rolando Bono pizza. I will take a moment to list out the toppings of a few of my favorites. The previously mentioned San Rolando is one of the simplest of pizzas at Bono: fresh tomato sauce, pepperoni, sausage and mozzarella. The Greek Boy features tomato sauce, mozzarella, feta, kalamata olives, spinach and a bit of oregano. Those are just two of the twenty combinations on the menu. Like the secret menu at Chipotle, insiders have special combinations of different pizza types (two or three of the styles fused together in both ingredients and name) that Jake will honor…if you get the “secret” name right.

For the full Bono experience, one must dine in. First, you need a rest after making all of the effort to find the place. Second, you need to soak in the ambiance to fully comprehend what I mean by Bono-hemian, Finally, Bono is often ordered to go, but I find it is never quite as satisfying when it has a chance to cool and an opportunity for some of the smoke and char from the oven to dissipate during the trip by car from Bono to back to your point of origin.

Bono Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posted in CLOSED, pizza | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Creole Kitchen 2.0 (Dine in Seating)

Posted by cmh gourmand on December 3, 2017

It was a long time coming and a long time in getting around to writing about it, but something big happened in late 2016. Creole Kitchen expanded to offer dine in seating. That might not seem like a big deal but if you read my original post from 2013 you might be inclined to agree with me. If you need a bit of icing on that cake of convincing, then try a serving of -> this.

We don’t have many creole options in Columbus. My first introduction was Harold’s Cajun Glory Cafe in the 1990’s which closed many years ago. After several years of Cajun purgatory I stumbled upon Creole Kitchen. As a largely carry-out operation in a lightly traveled part of the central city, Creole Kitchen stayed off most culinary radars. That was OK in my blog/book, I was happy to keep it to myself and minimize my wait time in line. When I spied the sign in 2013 indicating a dining room would be opening soon, I knew it would be a game changer for Chef Butcher and his kitchen. But 2014 and 2015 came and went. At the beginning of 2016, I was still cautiously optimistic. Towards the end of the year, the good news came to me the space was finally open. Nearly one year later, I was able to finally have the full Creole Kitchen experience. And just to be safe, I made sure to try it out twice before writing about the experience.

The food remains the same. The advantage of the new space is seating. This means more chairs, but more importantly, the right type access for those that would not seek out food in a styrofoam container. The carry out side of the business remains business as usual, the space is unchanged. A year later, at least for the lunch crowd, I think the community us still getting accustomed to an eat in option. The space is simple, nice but not fancy. The dining room is open with tables spread out instead of crammed in to maximize profit. There is a relaxed atmosphere throughout that is mirrored by staff. There are no “faux” creole, Cajun, etc., knick knacks mounted on the wall. In lieu of something not connected to the heritage of the place there is artwork reflecting the community and the musical history of the neighborhood.

One change in service with the restaurant, when asked about the level of heat for each dish the scale is presented as 1 to 5. Five is hot, but at Creole Kitchen heat is about flavor not how many taste buds can be burned out from heat.

The is only one significant difference between the carry out and the dine in experience, how the food is presented. In some instances, it is downright pretty. Another difference, that depends on your disposition and that of your fellow diners is that you now have a chance to talk to someone else about what you are going to have or what you are having. In my two visits to the new space, I have had the pleasure to share conversations about what I like and what I want to try next with those around me.

I’ll share some of my meals below.

I’m not going to go into detail about the food, the photos speak for themselves (and my old blog posts) but I am going to offer a few suggestions for dining in. First, whatever, you order, make sure to get a side of macaroni and cheese. It is the perfect starch to pair with anything on your plate. I’d also suggest a side of bread. This is used to soak in any small amount of sauce that does not cling to your meal. An order of bread ensures nothing is wasted or left behind. Another thing you can do in the restaurant side of Creole Kitchen…is tip. Tip big because the servers waited a long time for a chance to serve you.

Creole Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Tis the Reason(s) to Choose Watershed Distillery & Kitchen for the Season

Posted by cmh gourmand on November 20, 2017

During the holidays, I prefer to have all of my shopping completed before Thanksgiving. My lifelong goal, is to shop at as few places as possible and if at all possible, only one. However, I like my gifts to be a unique and original fit for the recipients. I don’t get out of the house much nowadays. I’m no longer the go to guy to get intel on all the new places and up and comers in the food world. With this as my criteria and my growing lack of hipness a big liabilities, what is a fella to do? Go with what I know well, Watershed Distillery. Although they do not know it, the gang at Watershed has worked hard to solve my holiday gift giving challenges by consolidating my needs into one entity.

My knowledge base of Watershed goes way back to 2013. I started running tours that showcased Watershed as one of our up and coming local businesses. Popping in a few times per month for almost four years, I experienced the equivalent of a time-lapse slide show of their growth. Every time I would bring in a group I would see a new piece of equipment or a wall knocked down or hear about another new spirit being distilled. Seeing how hard everyone worked, it was a true joy to see Watershed gradually realize success for their efforts. And one sure sign of “making the grade” is having a detailed overview of your business on Wikipedia. If you are new to the Watershed story, read a summary of their history and endeavors on Wikipedia -> HERE.

In sharing some more of that story, I make the case for how my holiday challenges are alleviated by what Watershed has to offer. Let’s start with the business. Two local guys create a local distillery that sources a fair amount of local ingredients. Supporting local businesses, that supports other local businesses is always a feel good decision and when those products are given as gifts, it certainly reflects well on the gift giver.

My first break out spirit from Watershed was their bourbon. Some would say bourbon can only be made in Kentucky, those folks are incorrect and may be suspect of spreading fake news. Watershed Bourbon, like the company, has evolved a bit over the years. From the start, Watershed bourbon has been a bit different from the corn squeezin’ crowd. In particular, Watershed double distills their bourbon (less common) and uses a four grain malt bill of corn, wheat, barley (much less common) and spelt (almost unheard of). Multiple grains are not unique in the world of distilling but the addition of spelt is a rare thing. Ohio is a major spelt producer so sourcing it for bourbon adds to the unique flavor and terroir of this barrel aged beverage. The version bottled today (late 2017) is aged three and one half years and is shifting to barrels crafted in Jackson, Ohio. The proof has shifted from 94 to 90. All of this combined gives the bourbon something that won’t get picked up by most palates or in reviews. Watershed Bourbon has a lot of the heart of Ohio mixed in to it. That ensures it will taste just a touch better. It will be interesting to see how Watershed Bourbon evolves over time since they have a goal of eventually aging each barrel 6 years.

My next Watershed moment was the addition of Nocino to the lineup. As you can read -> HERE, I am a fan. Nocino is a black walnut liquor that we can all thank a guy named Charlie for. The 2017 version will be released shortly after I post this so you should seek out and probably stockpile it before it is gone. It’s smaller bottle size makes it perfect stocking stuffer and its smoother, sweeter taste makes it an easy ice breaker for any gathering.

But wait there is more! Watershed recently added another unique spirit to their growing cast of local alcohol all-stars, in the form of apple brandy. Released in October 2017, Watershed brought apple brandy back after a one hundred year absence from the shelves of Ohioans. Made with Ohio apples, this brandy packs at punch at 80 proof. Each batch is aged for a minimum of two years with charred oak barrels. When I first caught a whiff of this in 2015 I knew it would be worth the wait, let’s just say I was smitten. The brandy is not in a climate controlled barrel house so the old style expansion and contraction of the wood in the barrels ensures this product has character and some old-timey goodness to it.

I picked up this little tip of how introduce others to this tasty treat, courtesy of Chris who works with the Watershed gang.

A great place to start for those who are not familiar with apple brandy or brandy in general is to switch out bourbon for apple brandy in a classic cocktail like a Manhattan or an Old Fashioned. Here are two quick recipes that we served at the launch party.

The Big Apple
1.5 oz Watershed Apple Brandy
.5 oz Watershed Bourbon
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
3 dash Angostura Bitters

Old Granny Smith
2 oz Watershed Apple Brandy
.25 oz Simple Syrup
3 dash Angostura Bitters
3 dash Molé Bitters

So that gives you three spirits to seek out for the holidays but don’t just take my word for it, let Watershed help you feel even more secure in your choices. Last year, Watershed added a restaurant their operation. Watershed Kitchen and Bar adds a needed element to the Watershed experience, an immediate way to sample their spirits in their preferred habitat, a cocktail glass, instead of as thimble sized sample served straight during a tasting. The bar offers well thought out and hand crafted cocktails to show off what the spirits can do when they team up with other ingredients. The kitchen crafts exceptional food so you can enjoy a meal, while ensuring your have the fortitude to try out more than one cocktail and educate yourself on what you might do with several of their base concoctions.

On two visits to the Watershed Kitchen I have found the food pairs well with libations. If your mom always told you to eat your brussels sprouts, this is the place where you will do so with glee. Let your mom know and she might just take you off the naughty list.

So this is my fool-proof plan to help you cover all of your holiday shopping in one short visit and treat yourself at the same time.

  • Step One: Visit Watershed Kitchen and Bar to sample all of their wares.
  • Step Two: Buy some restaurant gift cards for your friends that love food and/or do not drink.
  • Step Three: Pop into the Watershed store to stock up on bottles for you and for others. They even have some helpful recipe fliers to guide those that did not make it to the bar on how to craft cocktails to their liking. Pick up one for yourself and a few to go with your gifts.
  • Step Three Point Five: If you are pressed for time, the nice people at Watershed can create some gift packages for you to hand out as your own spirited Santa. Add in a flask, handy wooden crate, a t-shirt or whatnot to add to others holiday cheer. Your hard thought out efforts will much appreciated this holiday.
  • Drop in to Watershed Distillery, Kitchen & Bar.
    1145 Chesapeake Ave, Columbus, OH 43212

    Posted in beverages, culinary knowledge, Food For Thought, Locally Sourced | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

    Brewed on the Bikeway ABC’s: Athens, Beer, Cider & More

    Posted by cmh gourmand on November 12, 2017

    When I heard about Brewed on the Bikeway, I saw this as a way to combine two things I needed more of: riding a bike more often (as in cycling more than the 5 minutes I have biked each spring for the last three years when I fill my bike tires with air and test them out) and I needed to drink more beer. Well, not just beer, craft beer specifically crafted in Athens. So when I was offered a “partial scholarship” of sorts to explore Brewed on the Bikeway I was excited for an opportunity to blend beer and bikes.

    Breaking down what Brewed on the Bikeway is, the name speaks for itself. A while back, a few sharp-eyed and forward thinking individuals noticed how close the many Athens area craft beverage makers are to the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway. The bikeway follows the former pathway of the Columbus and Hocking Valley Railroad and the former Hocking Canal, often parallel to the Hocking River. The trail offers almost 21 miles of scenery connecting Nelsonville with Athens. Another amenity the trail offers is quick access to: Multiple Brewing (Nelsonville), Devil’s Kettle Brewing, Little Fish Brewing, Jackie O’s Taproom & Production Brewery as well the Eclipse Company Store. The trail is just a short hop from the original Jackie O’s Public House (which started the brewery explosion over a decade ago) and West End Cider House. Any one of these destinations is worth the trip – all of these combined makes for a great day. I was excited to explore how this all comes together.

    But then, I felt trepidation. I am in horrible physical condition. Instead of Brewed on the Bikeway, I started the to fear the title of this post might be Fat Dude Sprawled out on the Bikeway. However, I was determined to stay the course. I quickly discovered the Bikeway is all about ease and convenience.

    Having explored Nelsonville in-depth and with a short time frame to complete my “mission”, I skipped the northern 11 mile leg of the trail connecting Nelsonville to the nano community centered around The Eclipse Company Town in the Plains. The Eclipse Company Store Beer Hall was the perfect place to prepare for my Brewed on the Bikeway ride by enjoying a few local beers, a great lunch with a base of operations to spread out my maps and materials to plot out my adventure.

    Walking through the door, I was immediately smitten with the place. I chatted with owner Sean Kiser about the wonderland he has created in what used to be a small company town general store. At the Eclipse Company Store Beer Hall, a well curated collection of 40+ mostly local (Ohio) beers are paired with an impressive menu of pub grub incorporating many local ingredients. This is a relaxed, comfortable and sprawling space that is as conducive to chatting to people biking the trail or listening to live music inside or out. The menus offers many sandwiches, salads and entrees with a focus on smoked meats (Kiser also operates Kiser’s BBQ in Athens).

    The Beer Hall is adjacent to the Bikeway. After my meal which paired with samples of hard to find and newer breweries such as Sixth Sense Brewing in Jackson, I decided on a quick elliptical stroll around Eclipse before starting my ride. I popped into the Shop Athens Ohio store across the street to peruse the local products offered in a former row house. I found many interesting items, including pint glasses of closed Athens area watering holes to help former Ohio University Bobcats relieve their glory days.

    My next destination, just a few feet away was Black Diamond Bicycles. The shop sells and services new and used bikes and conveniently offers reasonably priced bike rentals. After a quick check to make sure my bike was a good fit for me, I headed off on the bikeway.

    As I approached the trail, several observations calmed my fears of a posting about the “fat dude subdued by the Bikeway”. The trail is in incredibly good condition and well maintained. Following a former railroad bed, it is largely on flat, level terrain. There are maps at many of the trail heads as well as mini bike service stations where you can check your tires and perform minor maintenance on your bike.

    In a very short time, I found myself at my first brewery destination, Devil’s Kettle Brewing. Located on Columbus Road, the brewery is not adjacent to the bike trail but if you know the lay of the land, you can figure out how to get to it with minimal disorientation. I had a directional advantage because I have conducted many “research” visits to Devil’s Kettle in the past. To help out for your Brewed on the Bikeway adventure, if you see the bridge below, you are getting close (this is also the only significant elevational challenge I had on my ride and I easily bested it).

    At Devil’s Kettle I was impressed by all of the changes the owners have made to their space in the short time since opening a few years ago. The brewery has progressed from a very raw, industrial space to being almost fancy. The one bit of infrastructure I was most excited to see was the solar panel array the brewery installed to supply much of the energy needed to run the operation.

    I have always enjoyed the assortment of beers served at the taproom here, but as a PSA, I would be remiss in not mentioning that Devil’s Kettle usually offers one or two sodas they craft as well, including a really exceptional Ginger Ale. If you are visiting all of the breweries on the Bikeway and looking to pace yourself, an occasional craft soda, and a lot of water, is aways a good idea.

    I then continued along the trail on my way to what I cautiously share is my favorite brewery in Ohio, Little Fish Brewing. Having been a frequent visitor to this brewery as well, I spied a short cut that shaved 10-15 minutes off of my ride. I am not ready to give that short cut away, or to lure you off what is a really good section of the trail, but if you are pressed for time and every minute counts, an astute eye and good off road tires can be helpful. Again, (taking either path, and I did both) I was mildly shocked at how close Devil’s Kettle and Little Fish are by bike. I did not even break as sweat.

    A craft beer fan would be hard pressed not to enjoy every beer on the Little Fish menu. In addition to a cozy indoor and outdoor space, Little Fish, has a little farm, where they grow some of their ingredients, a dedicated space for the many food trucks that serve at the brewery and because this is Athens and it is a brewery, solar panels. Among many notable notes regarding Little Fish, it was one of the first breweries to serve a beer with all Ohio ingredients (malt and hops).

    Pedaling on, my next destination took me off the trail with a short ride to West End Cider House and a meeting with my pal cider maker, distiller and brewer extraordinaire Kelly Sauber. Kelly was a long time brewer at Marietta Brewing Company. Several years ago he created Dancing Tree Distillery, which later became Fifth Element Spirits. In spite of the demands of operating a distillery, Kelly siphoned off some time to get West End Cider House going as well. (Read my post on the Cider House ->HERE). Kelly is one of my favorite people in the industry so having some time to sample some of his ciders while he brought me up to speed on some exciting changes to the operation coming in 2018 was time well spent. If you are new or old to craft ciders, this is a true destination to expand your appreciation of this cider and spirits. West End Cider House also offers cocktails and area craft beers in a relaxing environment with a choice of locally focused snacks.

    I stayed/strayed off the trail, navigating the streets near Uptown, but was clearly on track for my next depot on the Bikeway, Jackie O’s Public House and Brewpub, the spot that started the craft beer explosion in Athens in 2005. What started as a small brewpub has grown into a local icon and Ohio Craft Beer Institution. (To fully appreciate the story of Jackie O’s read this great overview article from Good Beer Hunting). While I had great food options at the Public House, including pizzas made with spent grains from brewing and other dishes showcasing ingredients grown on the Jackie O’s Farm, I did make a small detour off the Bikeway to meal up at two of my favorite Athens eateries.

    O’Betty’s Red Hot serves what I consider to be the best hot dogs and fries in the state of Ohio. This tiny space seats about 20 in a cozy setting that also features a hot dog museum of sorts. Any trip to Athens requires me to consume two Mata Hari’s (hot dogs are named after famous Burlesque performers) with an order of fries.

    Just across State Street, Casa Nueva is another of my mandatory Athens area pit stops. Founded as a worker owned cooperative restaurant in 1985, “Casa” helped pioneer the local foods focus of the community. While I might not always have room for a third or fourth meal while exploring Athens by bike, foot or car, my minimum “drive-by” order is a House Margarita with a side of locally produced chips and house made salsas.

    Having fueled myself with encased meats and more, it was time to continue back in the Bikeway for the last stop, Jackie O’s Taproom and Production Brewery on Campbell Street. This space started in 2013 and now produces the majority of Jackie O’s beer. The attached taproom is a good place to wrap up the drinking portion of my Brewed on the Bikeway experience. And of course because it is Athens, and because the space is a brewery, the spot is largely solar powered.

    The return to Eclipse Company Store was uneventful. If I had more time and if it had been a day of the week when Multiple Brewing was open, I believe I had ample liquid courage to pedal the 11 miles to Nelsonville to finish the Bikeway in style with a turn victory lap.

    In summary, I survived Brewed on the Bikeway without any bruises to my body or self worth. The trail was easy for an old out of shape guy to navigate. The pacing of the stops helped maintain my courage to carry on. The ease of bike rental helped me avoid the hassle of loading and unloading my bike for the drive down. All in all, it was a great way to balance biking with exercising my 21st Amendment right to enjoy a few adult beverages.

    Here are a few tips for your own Brewed on the Bikeway adventure:

  • The Bikeway can be pretty busy on the weekends, so check ahead if you are renting a bike and allow a little extra time to navigate crowded taprooms.
  • If you are doing the whole route, know that Multiple Brewing has limited hours, mainly some weekend and evening hours, so call ahead. There is plenty to do in Nelsonville.
  • Some sections of the trail can be prone to occasional flooding, if that is an issue, the Brewed on the Bikeway social media team do a good job of getting the word out. Plan ahead.
  • The bikeway does not have any directional markers for the “brewed” destinations. Finding your way to the stops in often not intuitive, so you will want to take a look at a mapping site to orient yourself on how to get to some destinations that are a bit off the trail. Many are not within line of sight of the bikeway. For the organizers, I’d suggest some signage that on the Bikeway that could serve as prompts for some destinations. Something like “Columbus Road Spur” could help those not familiar with the area know that trail segment is the turn off to get to Devil’s Kettle without advertising the business or causing any legal awkwardness related to promoting an alcohol business on a public byway. Some embedded mini maps with suggested paths to the destinations not near the trail like West End Cider House and Jackie O’s Public House would be a good public service.
  • Whatever the amount of time you have budgeted for Brewed on the Bikeway, add another hour, or day, to your plan. You will still find there is much more you want to do and see in the area.

  • For more information on the area, visit AthensOhio.

    And to connect with what is going on while you are in the area, look for these hashtags during your adventure.

    #AthensOhio
    #BrewedOnTheBikeway
    #OhioUniversity
    #VisitAthens
    #Athens30MM (connecting you with locally focused eateries and events in the area)

    Brewed on the Bikeway is just one path of many that will allow you to enjoy all that Athens County has to offer. The area is a hiking and outdoor enthusiasts paradise. There are several wineries that are well worth the short drive and countless other ways to unwind and enjoy what Southeast Ohio has to offer.

    Posted in Athens, beer, culinary misadventure, restaurants | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

    Don’t Bypass Nelsonville, The Star of the Hocking Hills

    Posted by cmh gourmand on October 29, 2017

    image of nelsonville fountain

    Fountain in Nelsonville

    When a bypass of Nelsonville on State Route 33 was completed several years ago many wondered about Nelsonville’s future. Would people forget about what Nelsonville had to offer? Would the character of the community change? For me, as a long time fan of area, this bypass as well as several others created along the same route shaved a few minutes off my sojourns to Athens but they did not make me forget what else I loved about the area.. I did not miss getting stuck in traffic in Lancaster, Nelsonville and elsewhere along 33 while on my way to reconnect with all the Hocking Hills has to offer. I found the bypasses, created more byways to explore the region whereas before I was focused on a mission to endure to commute to get to Athens by a certain time to beat the traffic.

    Revisiting Nelsonville, I found a community that has even more to offer than I recalled. I found the lack of commuter traffic I was accustomed to from before the bypass was refreshing. The lack of cranky commuters streaming through the center of town made the community feel more intimate as well as inviting and in my case, much more relaxing. All of the things I enjoyed in my past visits to are still here and getting even better. Rhapsody the student staffed restaurant is expanding space and hours. Stuart’s Opera House, my favorite small concert venue in Ohio is being extensively renovated and will be even better in the near future. Nelsonville offers the ubiquitous small town experience (good enough for the movies if you have seen Mischief).

    The character of Nelsonville is defined by two key things: bricks and boots. Specifically Star Bricks and Rocky Boots. Let’s start with Star Bricks. This brick and many other bricks types define this part of the state. The Star Bricks were considered the finest sidewalk pavers of their era and any community or individual in the United States that wanted to showcase a walkway had only one clear choice, Star Bricks. You will find these in (pre 1930) upscale neighborhoods all over the country. The brick industry in this region paved the streets of the nation as well (in Columbus you will see how well these bricks have held up for over 100 years in German Village and The Brewery District). Stroll the Public Square of Nelsonville to appreciate the craftsmanship of Star bricks and the beautiful fountain in the center of the square. If you are an Ohio Brick nerd like me you will see exhibits about the bricks at different businesses in the area and you will see the Star brick image integrated into shirts and more.

    As for boots, those would Rocky Boots, a local company with a history that goes back to 1932. However, the real story is how this home-grown company beat the odds as an independent boot and shoe maker with innovative outdoor boots they created in the 1980’s. I drove by Rocky Boots for years, assuming is was just a factory outlet for boots. When I dropped in for a visit at the Rocky Outlet Gear Store I found much more than an outlet. The store serves as an outfitter offering everything you would need to provision yourself for exploring Hocking Hills. Obviously there is a tremendous selection of boots and shoes as well as outerwear, kids clothes, camping and hiking equipment, grilling supplies, etc. This outlet is more of a basecamp for any activity you would want to pursue in the area. As a little insider tip, on the top floor you can get some great view of Nelsonville and the surrounding area. The Boot Grill serves as the heart of the building and in many ways the community. In addition to offering their signature Bison Burger, the restaurant serves a wide variety breakfast, lunch and dinner options as well as a specialty “bar” every day with a different daily feature such as hot dogs, fried chicken, shrimp and etc. In addition to giving visitors the chance to fuel up for their next adventure the grill serves as a community meeting place with a core group of residents dropping by several days a week to catch up on what is going on in Nelsonville.

    After wandering around Rocky Boots for an hour and not feeling like I barely scratched the service, I set out to explore downtown Nelsonville. My first stop was Fullbrooks Cafe. The menu offers much more than would seem possible in this small, intimate space. In addition to a wide selection of coffee and drinks, Fullbrook’s serves serval backs goods, soups, sandwiches and several daily specials. Like many independent eateries in the area, they are focused on a menu that sources local foods as much as possible. I tried a fresh scone and was able to get a small sample of a delicious soup I caught a whiff of as soon as I entered the door. Fullbrooks is a great spot to catch a snack while traveling through the square. The shop offers extended hours for events in town or when there are shows at Stuarts Opera House.

    Exploring the town square, I took a quick tour of Stuart’s Opera House which is wrapping up renovations to expand the space while retaining the character and history of the building. Walking along the Star Brick paved streets I explored shops that sold all type of crafts, quilts, art and more. Many of the businesses focus on items handcrafted by locals or sourced from materials in the region.

    All of the above can be good diversions to entertain you while you wait for a ride on the Hocking Valley Scenic Railway. A variety of weekend train adventures are offered including the very popular Easter Bunny & Egg Hunt, Santa Train and Train Robbery where bandits board the train and rob you (on purpose).

    If two wheeled adventures are more your thing, then you have the HockHocking Adena Bikeway which will take you to Athens and back on a bike. And if craft beer is your even more your thing, then you can use this to explore craft beverage destinations in both locales via Brewed on the Bikeway.

    Finally on this adventure, I found the answer to a question that has been pestering me for over 25 years, what is the story of the cross on the hill overlooking the city. I have driven past this for decades and really noticed it on night time drives home when it is illuminated. I convinced my local guide to help me find my way to the top of the hill which is where I learned the story.

    The cross is a simple tribute from a husband to a deceased wife but also a monument to a community of people who helped the cross find a home on the hill. An interesting side note, an earthquake (really) knocked the cross down on the late 1980’s but several people worked together to get it reconstructed. There were many twists and turns on the road leading to the cross but when I arrived I was glad to chip another item off of my Nelsonville bucket list. (Note: by report this may be the largest illuminated cross in North America or the World, but I could not find documentation to confirm this. I can say, it is big.)

    To find out more about what to do in Nelsonville, Hocking Hills and the region, visit Athens County Ohio.

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

    Back to Lisska for Breakfast with Nick & Ginger & the Gang!

    Posted by cmh gourmand on September 7, 2017

    Just over two years ago I made my first trip to -> Lisska Bar & Grill on the east side. I recently received this comment on my blog from Ginger:

    Our family comes every Thursday morning for breakfast and enjoys the BEST BREAKFAST IN TOWN! Our late parents enjoyed Lisska’s when they were “courting” in the 30s! It is an AWESOME “gathering place” – join us any Thursday morning for a great time about 9:30 a.m.

    So how could I refuse an offer like that? As long time readers know, breakfast is not my bag as it is my fourth favorite meal, so I decided to have a consultant join me -> Breakfast with Nick. We checked our schedules for a Thursday that could work and then I contacted Ginger to let her know when we would be joining her.

    This “breakfast club” of sorts started almost five years ago when one of Ginger’s brothers passed away. At that time, the three surviving siblings decided they need to ensure they spent regular time together so it was decided every Thursday they would have breakfast somewhere in the city. Lisska was there second Thursday stop and they have not found reason to change-up the venue since they rediscovered the place.

    There are ten consistent regulars in this group with an ever-changing and eternally growing cast of special guests joining together at Lisska. On my visit, there were at least twenty affiliated members observing the passing of another in their cohort over the summer. Over time, certain traditions have developed in this cadre. They always say a prayer together before they start a meal. They rarely miss a Thursday unless an out of town visit family or a holiday gets in the way of one or more of the group, although Thanksgiving is no barrier to breakfast for this collective of breakfasters. Special bonus sessions recognize important life events such as birthdays and St. Patrick’s Day. Over time, Ginger’s go to breakfast was named in her honor. I’d call it a “Jack Benny Special” but at Lisska, it is known as The Ginger: half orders of Polish Sausage, toast (no butter), hash browns and one egg over easy (see below – as you can see, my camera has not had it’s coffee yet).

    As I was introduced to countless breakfast guests I was quickly indoctrinated into this tribe. I learned what HEC, BEC and SEC stood for on the menu: Ham, Egg & Cheese, Bacon, Egg & Cheese and Sausage Egg & Cheese. When I learned that the Polish sausage came from Kowalski’s in Detroit, my order was simple, one SEC on wheat.

    While I waited for my order, munching on a sample of homemade coffee cake (exceptionally good), I learned the stories of most of the members of this group while Ginger and I connected on her many stories of growing up in Clintonville in the 1940’s and 1950’s as well as her careers in the insurance industry, law offices, an employee benefit company and countless community causes over the years. She connected the dots on how these people intertwined with each other and how many of them are connected to others I have come to know over time. Listening to the background chatter amongst this group I do not think one Columbus area Catholic school or church missed at least one mention as updates were made on the multitude of charities and community organizations this group invests their time and hearts into.

    As I indicated before, breakfast is not my thing. I would be hard pressed not to find a dessert I would not love, a price that did not seem like a steal or a story that ran on too long sitting on a stool here. My meal was fabulous but that was a side-line/dish to the company I was keeping. Sometimes a eatery creates a community among regulars or on occasion a community decides to make a place their own. Either of these phenomenons are rare occurences in this era. You can’t create the “glue” that creates a community like this on social media, in a corporate establishment or a new restaurant, even if independent, that has a business plan, extensive branding and lacks a less than a decade of grease on the grill. It takes a long time for a place to create a character for itself or to find a soul in its bricks and mortar and even then, you need to right mix of people on both sides of the counter to make the whole greater than the sum parts on the menu. This is an old school breakfast club that we could stand to have much more of today, even if other meals are involved.

    I started writing about food because I was interested in the history and stories of the people behind the counter and because by talking about food and not myself, it was easier for me to connect with people. So this was a great opportunity to reconnect with writing with connecting with a new community. And I got to hang out with Nick for a while, something I have not done in almost a year. Thanks for the opportunity Ginger and thanks for creating a community space (by fate not intention) Lisska.

    Posted in breakfast, culinary misadventure | Tagged: | 3 Comments »