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Archive for the ‘cocktails’ Category

The Boat House at Confluence Park: Dinner and a View with a Nod to 1958

Posted by cmh gourmand on October 12, 2018

I know you have heard, I don’t get around much anymore. However, CMH Spouse and I had an unprecedented third date night for the year. We went to the Boat House at Confluence Park. This is a spot we have been to once in the past while CMH Spouse was pregnant. This is where we told CMH My Mother that CMH Spouse was with child. That was a big deal, for a lot of reasons. This time, it was just a big deal for us to be out of the house and feeling alright about doing so. I will be forthright in sharing that we were there as guests of the Boat House for a big deal for them, the sixtieth anniversary of Specialty Restaurants Corporation the operators of nationally known restaurants including the Boat House, The Rusty Pelican, 100th Bomb Group and 94th Aero Squadron.

My mission, which I gladly chose to accept was to try out the 1958 Reef Throwback Menu offered to celebrate the anniversary of the company. This special menu is offered through October 21st and features signature dishes from The Reef which opened in 1958 as the first restaurant in the company.

It was good to get reacquainted with the Boat House after a four-year absence. I recall a day in my past when it was easy for me to keep my list of restaurants I wanted to try out very short, but in the last five years, the number of good options has increased exponentially and my opportunities to try them out has decreased factorially. I drive by the Boat House almost weekly as I go about my duties in the city but I had forgotten some of inherent perks this restaurant has to offer. First, parking, parking, parking! Most restaurants we seek out do not have much in the way of easy parking so it was refreshing to have our pick of spots close to the entrance. Second, location, location, location! The Boat House rests at the confluence of the Scioto and Olentangy rivers offering an exceptional view of downtown Columbus. The evening we visited offered absolutely perfect patio weather (observationally, I would say 2018 has offered the city three evenings as climatically perfect as our night out so I am glad we snagged the last one this year is likely to offer). I had never dined outside at the Boat House or in the past when the site was called River Club however within a few seconds I decided this is an experience I could easily get attached to. Our view was great, our table was comfortable and we were in the care of a phenomenal server.

We started out with the house bread. Bread service seems to have lost favor in the world of current dinning trends but I miss that tradition. As our household has been largely gluten-free for the last five months, we both missed our good friend gluten and were happy to dive into the loaf of bread offered to us. The bread was light yet filling. It is proofed and baked in-house and lightly brushed with butter, parmesan cheese and roasted organic garlic.

At this point our drinks arrived. We sampled two signature cocktails, Dave’s Margarita and a classic Mai Tai. The margarita is named for SRC’s founder and World War II veteran, David Tallichet since this was his favorite in-house drink. He added his signature to the classic drink by showcasing fresh lime juice and orange liqueur, for the anniversary version of Dave’s namesake drink the restaurant adds Camarena Tequila, Grand Marnier Italia and Cointreau. Served with a slice of lime and hardy glaze of salt on the rim, this was by far the best margarita I have had in a long while. The Mai Tai was a treat as well. It reminded me of days past at the Kahiki. Most of the Mai Tai’s I’ve had in this decade were disappointing, The Boat House did not fail me on this cocktail, it was one of the best of the style I have tried.

Moving on along to appetizers, I enjoyed the Throwback special of a crab cake with Tiki sauce, fresh mango was a highlight of the tower of tiki inspired ingredients resting atop the crab cake on my plate. As CMH Spouse is intensely allergic to mango so opted for the house crab cake (lump crab with a spicy remoulade). Having lived in Maryland for ten years, she found these crab cakes meet her high standards.

Not on the Throwback menu, but definitely something I would throwback all night is the calamari. At the Boat House, the squid is sourced from Rhode Island and never frozen. The breading is infused with buttermilk and served with a mildly spicy Thai sauce. The flavor of this dish was great, it was clearly fresh and was not over-fried or greasy in any way. We also discovered that the remoulade from the crab cake was an outstanding alternative dipping sauce for the calamari.

My next course on the Throwback menu was Teriyaki steak with jasmine rice and steamed broccoli. This was a simple, straight forward dish. My steak was perfectly cooked and marinated. While the steak did not need the sauce served with it, the blend of flavors in the sauce perfectly accentuated the steak and went well with both the rice and broccoli when I was so inclined to drizzle some on each.

CMH Spouse dined on the Pan Seared Tasso Chicken which was a chicken breast served with sliced marble potatoes, asparagus and Tasso ham with all parts of the dish swimming in creole cream sauce. When my wife started to fill up with plenty left on her plate, I gallantly offered to finish it for her. We both loved the rich flavors offered in this recipe. The Boat House will be launching a new menu for the season later this month so we were happy to hear this entrée would continue through the winter.

Last and not least on the Throwback Menu was Pineapple cheese cake. This dessert was executed brilliantly. The slice was generous in size, the crust of the cake held up to the weight of the cake filling itself with the flavors in both complimenting each other nicely. The pineapple was gently piled on top but added a noticeable pop of flavor to each bite. This was not something dumped out of a vacuum sealed bag, it was fresh pineapple diced, then cooked down with sugar.

I’ll also restate again, our server was phenomenal. I apologize to her for not asking for the proper spelling of her name, but “Raye” was friendly and fun while being both poised and professional. She had deep knowledge of all of the dishes both on the regular menu and the 1958 Reef Throwback menu and made good recommendations to us throughout the evening. While she has only been at the Boat House for ten months her depth of knowledge might suggest to first time guests that she had been there for many years.

I enjoyed the 1958 Reef Throwback Menu as well as my wife’s selections for dinner. We could not have had a better evening and I appreciated the opportunity to do something fun with my wife knowing that everything would be great as soon as we entered the threshold. We were so stuffed we had to head home instead of dropping in to Seventh Son, the site of our wedding which was one of our last big nights out, so for CMH Spouse to decline an opportunity to extend an evening means we did not need to add to an already perfect experience. Thanks Boat House and happy anniversary to the company.

Where to dine:
The Boathouse at Confluence Park
679 West Spring Street
(where the Scioto meets the Olentangy River)
(614) 469-0000


The Boat House Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Posted in cocktails, restaurant reviews, restaurants | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

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

Posted by cmh gourmand on November 30, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arepazo (Tres) Tapas Bar & Grille

Posted by cmh gourmand on September 29, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arepazo Tapas Bar Grille on Urbanspoon

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

Rambling House Soda Pop: The Toast of the Town

Posted by cmh gourmand on May 17, 2014

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Rambling House Soda Pop is definitely a family affair. The business is owned and operated by husband and wife John and Jen Lynch. John’s brother works in operation full-time crafting soda and all of the many tasks that are needed for soda making and bar management. John’s dad is involved in the business as well. It was a long rambling road to get to Rambling House. John has operated a nano brewery in a garage at his house for about a decade. He made great craft beer and soda to share with family and friends. Every year John and Jen host a party with beer and soda as the focus of the evening. I was able to attend once and I was instantly enamoured with the beverages.

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The family had planned to open a brewery and eventually secured a building they thought would be a great location to grow a small brewery and taproom. However, even a small brewery requires a large amount of capital and over the course of the last two years many other breweries have tapped into the local market making the scene much more competitive. John has always been dedicated to his dream so he picked up a job at growler shop and started working for a local brewery to expand his knowledge and experience. Last year, the family decided to take a different path on the way to their dream. They decided to focus on craft soda and operating the building as an event space.

Last year, during Comfest, they decided to roll out their sodas and use the festival to get feedback on their different flavors and recipes. The sodas were a hit. Shortly after, they started transforming the space into a production facility, bar and music venue. Rambling House now offers a full service bar with a focus on local spirits and craft beers as well as cocktails which highlight their craft sodas. The space itself has become a destination for bluegrass and folk music with the place popping four to five nights with great local and regional acts. The Lynch’s have also partnered with Paddy Wagon and Tatoheads to provide food on peak days. It is a great venue. (Sidenote: Galaxy Cafe fans of yesteryear will be happy to know that Ricky Barnes plays Bluegrass in the house on occasion – se blurry photo below).

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A few months ago I interviewed John on Foodcast so you can listen and learn more at the link -> HERE.

You can find Rambling House straddling the border between Old North Columbus (known to some as So Hud) and Clintonville at Hudson and Indianola. Since the John and Jen are long time Clintonvillians the space also shows their committment to keeping their business uber-Local. Soda selections include Cola, Root Beer, Sasparilla, Orange and Ginger Ale. The sodas can also be found at Weilands and The Ohio Taproom where they can be purchased in growlers. They drink well on their own or in a cocktail.

The best place to check out the sodas is at Rambling House itself before, during or after a show.

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Rambling House Soda Pop
310 East Hudson Street
SoHud

Posted in beverages, Clintonville, cocktails, events | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Brewed Awakening

Posted by cmh gourmand on October 7, 2013

So what have I been up to you might ask? Well, I moved back to a buzz cut, finally conceding that I have more head than hair now. I neglected to mention that I won a Vendy Award and last and very much not least have you heard about Columbus Brew Adventures.

Brewed awakenings

I have often immersed myself in a subject to learn more about it. I became fascinated with Australia so I got myself there six times for a total of 4 1/2 months, visited all the states and territories and make several lifelong friends in the process. Then I wanted to get a job at OCLC and improve my research skills for writing so I earned a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science….well, I did become a better researcher. And as you readers know, a few other things caught my attention: donuts, pizza, Food Trucks and such.

And now…..Beer and Business.

Partnering with (and learning a lot, every day) Bethia and Andy from Columbus Food Adventures we have been working on and since September 7th running beer tours. There have been countless meetings with brewers throughout the area. Even more e-mails and phone calls. There has been a good amount of time “product” testing as well. The brewing community is a great group of people – passionate about their craft and growing a craft beer culture in our city. I am honored to be able to work with these business owners and immersing myself into their culture. I am learning about more beer and myself every day.

Our downtown brewery tour has been very popular. We explore four breweries and even through I have done my research, I learn something new from each place we visit and each brewer we work with every time I guide a tour. We have also run a tour out to Licking County to visit Brews Cafe, Granville Brewing, Homestead Beer Company and Buckeye Lake Brewery. We made a run to Rockmill Brewery, Dancing Tree Distillery and Jackie O’s in Athens. As fun as that tour was, I was amazed that a couple drove in from Dayton to join us for a multiple hour tour and then drive back home. We are adding more tours this month to explore the breweries of Grandview and our local distilleries. Other ideas are fermenting as well. Pizza and Beer sound good? Maybe a progressive tour of a league of restaurants?

And of course, our tours include food to go with the beer. As you can guess, we take that part of the tour pretty seriously too. As for our beer tourists, each group has been fun to guide around. From craft beer neophytes, to home brewers and beer experts everyone has enjoyed the tours, tried beers they might not have tried before and even at places they might have visited on their own, taken something away they would not have without being on the tour. We learn something at each brewery be it history, how ingredients influence the brewing process, or sampling a beer flight that showcases twenty years of microbrewing in Columbus. In every case, I guests leave wanting to explore even more and go back to try these places again.

In the process I have learned to drive a 14 passenger van, initially felt like a freshman at Food Tour University, lost the company cell phone (which was one of the top 13 worst days of my life), and every day found myself nudged further out of my comfort zone. While learning I have found that there is so much more to learn, I guess that makes sense, beer has been around since the 5th century BC. I knew a good deal about beer before I walked down this road. Now that I jumped into the brewing culture of Columbus I find myself in the catbird seat observing something I believe is going to become a big part of the character of Columbus, a craft beer and distilling culture that will earn a lot respect in the industry. Columbus Brew Adventures is exactly that, an adventure. Care to join us on one?

Posted in beer, Behind the Counter, beverages, cocktails, Food For Thought, Gastronomic Stimulus | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Explorer’s Club Food Truck & New Additions to the Restaurant

Posted by cmh gourmand on July 6, 2013

truck

Facebook: explorersclubmv
(to find the next location for the truck and more on the restaurant)

The Explorer’s Club Restaurant is about eighteen months past the day the doors opened. While other restaurants entered the mobile food world before Explorer’s Club, the team behind the wheel started preparing back in 2012.

Shortly after the restaurant opened, they started to rent a food cart on occasion to help get the word out about the Explorer’s Club and to support community events. They did well and saw the advantages of going mobile including having extra kitchen space in a building where cooking quarters are tight as well as a much easier way to build out a catering business. The truck launched in late May of this year and has been keeping busy doing corporate lunches, events, late night and weddings.

Like the restaurant, the menu is eclectic. While it often has a southwestern / latin themes the sky is the limit for what one might find on the menu on any given day. A few examples are posted below.

menu prime

menu 2

A few examples are shown below. Tots one of the most sought items on mobile food menus are frequently on the menu and in many of the Explorer’s Club Menu items. The example below is the Sloppy Jose Burrito which includes mac and cheese, Ropa Vieja (shredded beef), seasons tots and some saucy goodness.

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Tacos in various forms are frequent flyers on breakfast, lunch and dinner menus, but always tacos with a twist of one sort or another.

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For breakfast, this truck has the best options in the business including breakfast burritos, chorizo sausage Biscuits and gravy and one of my favorites an egg sandwich on Cuban bread with Swiss Cheese, jalapeno mayonnaise and jalapeno slaw.

For vegetarians, there is typically one or more strong options on the menu. For fans of the restaurant, many of the menu items are based on core ingredients at The Explorer’s Club but this is not a recycling of menu concepts, the items are meant to be served fast and friendly to eating on the go.


So that is the news on the truck. Here is what is new at the restaurant. It closed down for the first week of July to paint, clean and add ceiling tiles to reduce the noise level in the main dining area. Added to the space since my first post in October 2012: a second dining room / large party room, a small patio, an outdoor herb and vegetable garden, a cool bike rack, new artwork on the inside and outside and plenty of things I have forgotten. I can say that my favorite addition has been the pomegranate margarita which just happened to be 1/2 price on Tuesdays.

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Posted in CLOSED, cocktails, restaurants | Leave a Comment »

SKY Gourmand: Zinc….Why you should add it to your diet.

Posted by cmh gourmand on June 5, 2012

Located one half block from the shores of Lake Erie, Zinc Brasserie has made a name for itself with north coast culinary hipsters, tourists, residents and food enthusiasts. Reading the numerous very positive reviews on every rating tool I can find, each reads about the same. (Paraphrased) – “I can’t believe there is a place like this in Sandusky, the French styled menu exceeded my expectations, I really loved the Beet Salad”. On the surface, I would say exactly the same thing. Digging deeper, I will write a bit more.

First, non residents of Columbus often say “I can’t believe I found something like this in Columbus, Ohio”. A good restaurant can be anywhere and it can serve anything. The basics are the same – food, service, atmosphere and exceeding expectations in each of the previous categories. Zinc Brasserie does well in all of these areas.

We are all prone to discount small cities and towns as not being urbane enough to spawn a good restaurant. I wonder why that is? Jackson Hole boasts several great restaurants due to the influx of people passing through to enjoy the area. It is possible for a good or great restaurant to call any locale home, many tend to write off fly over country or any place with only one zip code. Granted the probability is overwhelming but it is there. In retrospect, we should expect a restaurant like this in Sandusky, maybe a few of them. The north coast of Ohio offers a bounty of fresh and local produce, great purveyors, fish and The Chef’s Garden is just a corn hole toss away in nearby Huron (I spied a few familiar looking micro greens on my plate). Sandusky is no Metropolis but it does have a sizable population and a flood of visitors flowing through six to eight months per year. The city hosts one of nearly every restaurant chain known to man as well as several independent restaurants. My philosophy is “if you cook well, they will come”. And come they do, to downtown Sandusky. Cleveland is not so far away. In fact, Zinc Brasserie is listed among the Cleveland Independents, a group of some of the best restaurants in the greater Cleveland area. Cleveland is close enough for Zinc to see where the culinary bar is raised to. Chef Cesare Avallone and his wife Sarah saw the bar then jumped over it.

Speaking of bars, Zinc sports a good one. The counter area looks like a classic bar from the early 20th century. While the bar presents well, it is not a case of form over substance. The drink menu features well crafted cocktails, a deep wine list and a satisfactory selection of beers including some north coast all-stars. Speaking of bars again, located across the street at 145 Columbus Ave is the Avallone’s second venture Crush Wine Bar. I would link the website but it is pretty obnoxious (note to web designers, music on a restaurant web site is a major fail in the world of social media, or any media for that matter). I scouted out Crush status post Zinc. It serves a smaller tapas style menu, adds more cocktails and wines that Zinc can’t find room for and serves as a pre or post destination for those dining across the street. Speaking of additional venture…. the Avallone’s are opening a third restaurant in Sandusky this summer. It is called Dockside Cafe. It sits right on the lake and is accessible by foot, bike, car or boat.

Now back to Zinc. The space is small, cozy (at some tables cramped) and does have an old and French bistro feel. The menu reflects the current season and also changes frequently due to a focus of local and in farm fresh ingredients. I could wax on about my specific entrees and how good each dish was….but most likely my meal no longer exists with the same combination of ingredients so I will just engage in some food blog porn below (I hope I am not swatted by a pretentious bear). ((The first person to guess what I am alluding to in the previous sentence gets a prize of some manner)). A few dining notes: there are good reasons why so many reviews include the word beet; Zinc Brasserie does a great job with presentation but not to the detriment of anything in the menu, especially those dishes featuring meat; and dessert…do it.

Zinc Brasserie

142 Columbus Avenue • Sandusky, OH • 419.502.9462

Zinc Brasserie on Urbanspoon

Crush Wine Bar
145 Columbus Ave.
Sandusky
419.502.WINE

Posted in cocktails, Ohio, restaurants, Road Trip, Sky Gourmand | 1 Comment »

Mojito Madness: Round One Recap and The Rest of the Story

Posted by cmh gourmand on October 18, 2010


Alternate Title: CMH Gourmand and the Seven Lady Drinkers


Sometimes I get a notion…….

Good mojitos have been few and far between in my life experience. I had three or four perfectly mixed and poured mojitos after I landed in Brisbane, Australia after 26 hours in transit. Casa Nueva in Athens has a good seasonally themed mojito cocktail. However, my local mojito encounters had been lacking and might be better described a “meh-jitos”.

What is a mojito? A highball, Cuban in origin, it should consist of: white rum, sugar cane juice, lime, sparkling water and mint leaves. This cocktail is all about the quality of the ingredients and taking the time to mix them.

Using the power of Twitter, I asked for suggestions on the best mojitos in the capital city. I received many responses. Then I decided that the quest would be best if done with a company of cocktail connoisseurs. I figured if the mojitos were bad at least the entertainment (and blog content creation) value would still be high. I sent out a call for volunteers for my cocktail caper that read as seen below (not quite the Shackleton expedition advertisement, but still equally uninspiring).

Hello Brave Volunteers,

While I agree that the best mojito would be in Cuba or made at home,
sometimes while out and about, you have to have one, especially in
this heat. Over the last year I have been overwhelmed by mojito
malaise – too many suboptimal mojitos to count.
I know we can find at least one good one in Columbus and I am on a
mojito mission. I need help rating and evaluating mojitos.

This offers no pay, probably hazardous working conditions, the
possibility of alcohol poisoning, the potential for drunk tweeting
(not by me) and you might end up in a photograph on CMH Gourmand.
Here is the route – two days – one easy….one hard.

In the end, these were my volunteers. Their names have been somewhat protected to protect their somewhat innocence.

Hungry Woolf
DrElena
Twixlen
AmberHunt
NBCMonica
ItinerantFoodie

For one segment, we were joined by AmandyAnderson

The adventures are mostly chronicled on Twitter under this hashtag – #MojitoMadness

We picked up a few additional test tasters along the way with our growing party acting as Johnny Alcoholseeds and Pied Pipers. Some of the restaurants were following our progress on Twitter as well, much as people on the Florida coast watch the Weather Channel for hurricane updates.

Now a long alcohol inspired evening (starting at 3 PM) with seven women would normally be something that I would dream about instead of write about or experience. Well, unless it is Australia or Canada, I had similar adventures there. Nevertheless, it happened. There is a saying: “Well behaved women rarely make history”. That is true. I think that Mojito Madness as the event was called was very historic.

The surprise guest was Monica Day from NBC4. I did not know she was coming. Honestly, my first thought was “great, some high maintenance fashion plate is on this excursion”. I was very quickly proven wrong. Since I did not have a TV for the majority of 2010 and don’t watch TV when I have it, I had no idea who Monica was or that she was also a former Miss Ohio. Score one for Team Mojito Madness. Monica was perfect for our experiment and it was great to drink in her company. She is classy, observant, funny and flexible. Ms. Day you can join us for any adventure at any time! She also completed her journal of the evening two months ahead of me. You can read Monica’s well-written documentary below.

Monica’s Mojito Madness

I learned a lot during the field research for this project. Being the only male in a pack of seven strong-willed, mojito-fueled, bright, passionate, wonderful women on a rainy day with bars to hop and raindrops to dodge is no easy task. I was often lost in my own crowd. The game plan and approach were debated. I decided to just follow along for the ride instead of trying to steer the course of the ship. These are the places we visited or assaulted depending in ones point of view on day one.

Barrio

Mojo Lounge

Knead

Deepwood

Mouton

Northstar Cafe in the Short North

The Rossi

These are my field notes:

First stop Barrio. Met the group, organized the itinerary, and explained cocktail evaluation process. Debated cocktail evaluation process. Backseat driving has begun. Remember to eat. Round One of Mojito Madness was designed as a High Street tour of cocktails with ambitions to sample eight to ten different mojitos.

As a group we discussed what makes a mojito good. There were many different opinions. There were many competing opinions. There were many contrasting opinions. We discussed rating sweetness, mintyness (sp?), ruminess (same), mojitoness and taste. At the end of much back on forth we (kind of) agreed to a 10-point scale with 5 points for taste and 5 points of mojitoness (which includes mint, sweetness, mojo, etc.). Barrio has a Pomegranate Mojito, which a few of us tried and was found to be respectable. Not sure of how our group dynamics would play out and also wanting to be a good host I decided I would order a pitcher of mojitos with a few appetizers to share and pick up the tab for our first order. I appreciated the bartender’s willingness to pursue this poor idea on my part. As it turns out the Barrio mojito scored from one to nine on our scale with the low scores coming from those getting a drink from the bottom of the pitcher. I noted that I should avoid the pitcher tactic for our other stops. We all agreed that the fries at Barrio are really damn good.

As we decided to head for our next destination Mother Nature decided it was time to unleash the rain. A lot of rain.

I arrived at Mojo Lounge soaking wet and could find no paper towels in the bathroom to dry off. I did however, discover a secret parking spot in Goodale Park so all was not lost. We took our team photos here and I apologize to Twixlen for cutting her out of my photo in error. We universally liked that the Mojo Lounge mojito had slices of lemon and lime – so score a presentation point there. Several of us also thought it had a lemon shake up (fair drink) quality to it. We believe the alcohol used here was Barcardi Limon. Our collective score here was seven. Not bad.

Our next stop was Knead (which is overdue for a report….coming soon). Since sobriety improves walkability, we were looking for ways to minimize mojito mayhem. Knead was happy to cater to our whim of wanting half pour mojitos for the sake of pace. I do not think the mojito was a standard cocktail on the menu (at least in August) but they made them anyhow. The consensus was that the mojito lacked mojitoness. Another comment was “tasted like my freshman year”. To elaborate on that comment more would take too long and feel too awkward so use your imagination. We did think the presentation of the food we ordered was good. A few said that while this version of the drink was not a good mojito, under a different name, they would rate it a good cocktail.

We headed next door to Deepwood. At this stage, the group was a bit boisterous to the point of my absolute mortification. I felt very bad for the couple across from us. Another member of our party noticed that her boyfriend’s grandparents were in the restaurant but it was too late for her to distance herself from us. Therefore, she sucked it up. We made requests for half pour mojitos here as well. The staff were happy (on the surface) to do so and adapted to our “boarding party” quite well with patience, decorum, and grace when taking multiple food orders from us.

(Aside: A few days later, I heard through the food enthusiast grapevine (we know everything) that our presence had been tracked on Twitter and that there was significant discussion and debate among the staff and owners about how to handle the half pour mojito situation. To everyone’s credit, we would not have guessed what was going on from our side of the table.)

We had some differing opinions on this mojito. We had two low scores and several 8’s and a 10. This turned out to be our (collective, not universal) favorite of the evening. Comments included: most minty, not too sweet and good ruminess (sp?). Many of us thought it was the best balanced of the mojitos we tried that evening. We all loved our food here. This was our main meal stop for the night although we continued with snacking to maintain our drinking sustainability.

Rested, fed, fueled and with the rain abated, we marched to Mouton. I must give Mouton great credit. They were aware of our intentions via Twitter and even though they did not carry all the ingredients to make a mojito (and did not have it on their standard drink menu), they sent someone out to get the missing components they lacked and invited us in with open arms.

Mouton led strong with most members of our merry mojito band commenting that this was the best presentation of the night. The mint looked and tasted minty. Even the ice (crushed) looked inviting. However, things when downhill from there. Field notes include these observations and opinions: “so limey I might die”, “tastes like sour mix”, “limijito?” and “tastes like my front yard”. Based on presentation and high spirits we had ordered a lot of mojitos when we arrived. Scores here varied from two to six. What we did universally enjoy was the food and other beverages and cocktails we tried.

The pouring and art of their cappuccino was wonderful (see the photo below).

We picked up some additional male members from the Twitterverse at this point and moseyed over to The Rossi to find it packed (not surprising for a Saturday night). We placed our party on a wait list then ran a gauntlet of interesting people watching fueled by the Gay Pride Festival on our way to Northstar Cafe.

Northstar failed the mojito test. Field notes here included: “not minty”, “not rummy” and “no mojitoness”. This did score high on the taste scale (four to five out of five from most of us) due to Northstar’s house made ginger ale. For me, I was happy because I had a peanut cookie to munch on which is a Northstar favorite of mine.

At 8:47 pm, we received the call that our table was ready….or almost ready so we rolled back to the Rossi. The hostess at the Rossi wins for service for the evening. She did the best she could under crowded and cramped conditions to squeeze our party into a space for sipping cocktails.

This was a stop I was looking forward to due to several positive endorsements from the public. I wanted the evening to finish strong. Opinions were contrasting here. Comments from my mojito mavens included: “I do not hate this mojito”, “Ewwww”, “goofy bitter flavor, cheap liquor?”, and “solid five”. There was one score of eight but the comments after could not be translated other than the phrase “hoo haa”. It was a busy night and several of us noted a grainy sugary taste to the drink so maybe the bar ran out of simple syrup and substituted another sugar product. At this point due to the crowd, time invested and such, we collectively called it a night. I left my notebook behind but it was secured and saved by a Hungry Woolf. I cabbed back to Clintonville and called it a day and a night.


The next day I headed to the hinterlands (to me), known to most of you as Easton to try out Smith & Wollensky. The original plan was to hit three places for part two of Mojito Madness but the day was not flowing well and my focus was flagging.

The bar enchanted me, enough that I could willingly be lured to Easton again. It may be the best place to drink on a Sunday afternoon. One half of bar area the opens to the patio. The bar top is copper-plated which creates an old bar feel. The bar service was good, classy and efficient. The presentation of the drinks was impressive. I watched the bartender prepare my multiple mojitos.

I tried the Dragonberry Mojito which is Barcardi rum infused with dragon fruit and strawberries and served with fresh mint and lime. I would give this an eight. Also on the menu was Miami’s Finest Mojito, made with Cruzan Citrus Rum, Monin Pure Cane Syrup, Sweet & Sour, lime, mint and soda.. I gave the Dragonberry an eight and the Miami an almost nine. I also swilled a very good Pomegranate Caipirinha made with Cabana Cachasca Rum, pomegranate, mint and lime. (Aside: Brazilan rum aka Cachasca, is distilled from cane sugar – not molasses like other rums. It is generally high proof and clear in a murky manner). At this point in time, I was feeling that the Smith and Wollensky mojito might be my winner or at least second place finisher.


The following weekend the destination was German Village to try out Lindey’s and Barcelona. Our research in the village was highly productive but hindered by some disorientation and some trauma (I was attacked by a branch). Ouch. Photos were suboptimal on this expedition due to low light. So, I am sorry that you not get the view these mojitos at their best.

We hit Barcelona on a busy, busy night but were able to secure two stools for the three of us. We were also able to secure four cocktails for round one of sampling. The Basil Mojito is a signature drink here and had received a strong endorsement from a few folks. This is Barcardi rum with lime, sugar, soda and basil leaves. We also ordered a Caipirinha (pitu cachaca, limes, sugar and soda). For the month of August, 10 Cane Rum was featured liquor so there were two more mojitos to try. One was made with 10 Cane Rum and the standard ingredients. The other was labeled the Millionaire Mojito, mixing 10 Cane Rum with Cava. All of the mojitos here were well made. The Barcelona bartender, in spite of being very busy, put great care into each mojito. All were well balanced with fine presentation. The mint itself was fresh and looked really good. Each cocktail was muddled and hand shaken with vigor. The basil mojito scored an 8.5. The 10 Cane mojitos scored 9.5. While the journey continues, this was the winner and at this point, my desire to continue looking was curbed. The Caipirinha was awesome resulting in more being ordered to ensure the first two were not flukes.

Our next destination was Lindey’s. A signature drink on their bar menu is the Cranberry Mojito. On a previous visit, I was told they were out of Cranberry (on a Friday night with a grocery store within walking distance….what?). This evening Lindey’s did have cranberries so we ordered their house version as well as a standard mojito. These were both good and worth ordering again. However, with the trauma of being attacked by a branch and the lingering recent memory of the Barcelona bar experience, it was hard to get excited about our drinks here. The food was amazing and was enjoyed in candlelight on one of my favorite patios in town.


In late September, I finally hit the last place on the original mojito hit list – The Press Grill. The Press is a favorite cheap eats hangout out of mine but I had never tried their mojito. I sampled this one solo. It was good but not great. I found it a bit too syrupy and gritty. In the range of all of the mojitos I tried for Mojito Madness, this would score in the lower end of the middle of the bell curve.


We missed a few places. M, the restaurant, called out to us via social media but we were not able to take them up on their offer to experience their mojito. Their bar staff have a good reputation in the cocktail community so it is a shame that logistics did not work out. I am sure there will be posted comments on other good mojito spots in Columbus. However, based on a good sample and plenty of sampling, I am comfortable stating that Barcelona has the best mojito in town. I will also state in retrospect, I prefer Caipirinhas over mojitos for my Latin flavored cocktailing.

There might be more #Madness sessions in 2011 – Manhattans and Bloody Marys are on deck. The format will be one place and one type of cocktail per meet up until we run the list of best in show for that cocktail in Columbus. Watch @CMHGourmand on Twitter for those details and read the results here, hopefully in a timelier manner.

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