CMH Gourmand – Eating in Columbus & Ohio

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Clintonville Pizza Challenge: The Verdict (with a serving of unsolicited pizza philosophy)

Posted by CMH Gourmand on April 19, 2012

When the series began it was for a noble purpose. Introduce new members of the Clintonville Community to the pizza dining options of Clintonville. It was also an opportunity for me to retry some places from my past and fill in the notebook on a few places untried. The concept, was to run a March Madness style bracket system with the goal of a worthy champion to be our go to pizza for our Monday gatherings. Our merry band knew there would be challenges in our challenge: conflicting tastes, a three-year addiction to Adriaticos to acknowledge and self-help our way through. We knew there would be disappointments but with twelve candidates we “knew” there would be a few princes among the frogs. Right?

Instead of the thrill of serious competition in the spirit of March Madness we had to fight through a marathon of mediocrity for five straight weeks. Here is how the series ended with limited analysis (I did not even bother to write down opinions for the last round).

Whole World: Disqualified because they are not open on Mondays.

Gatto’s: Average nothing of note

Smith’s Deli: forgotten about until the night before. Perhaps with good cause. The pizza had a school pizza sale pizza quality to it and had OK crust but the rest tasted so packaged we looked for a price tag.

Northstar Cafe: Technically disqualified for being a flatbread. While acknowledged that this was a good product and probably the most “real” food of any candidate in the series and the freshest of any ingredients. The flatbread does not travel well and failed our long-established value and volume standard….explained later if I don’t forget.

Romeo’s: OK for a chain, the winner of the evening. It has qualities of the original Dominos of the 1970’s and a big crust ring. The whole was greater than the sum of the parts on this one and what won the day for Romeo’s was sauce. The sauce was persistently present in each bite and tasted like….pizza sauce. The others lacked any sauce of note or measure.

Going through all of the contenders, the only pizzas our gang would order again for a second trial would be Hounddogs and Belleria. Only these two would have made it to a second round. Gauging preferences among the group, Hounddogs would have been the winner. However, after leading my flock through 40 days of pizza purgatory, there was no way to take them further on the journey and thus the series ends with a fizzle. In all we tried the thirteen independent and small chain pizzas of Clintonville minus Whole World and Mama Mimi’s. It was a noble effort.

On the upside, our hosts seem to have taken a shine to Belleria (based on the many boxes I see in the household between Mondays. And, strangely enough, they don’t opt for delivery, that seems like a moral victory of some sort. The head of the household of our hosting site likes the Italian accented banter of the Mama Mia at the shop when he picks up his prize.

Also, it is noted that Adriaticos was picked up for consumption on the day of this dispatch and devoured at the host site so all is now well at our undisclosed testing zone and Nerd Night headquarters in Middle Clintonville.

What was learned. The perception in Columbus is that Clintonville is weak in dining choices. In the case of pizza that is true, not much to write home about (even in my own home) in the Ville. How sad. However there is hidden in our borders a pizza genius. A master of baking, furnace and fire tweaking who like a classic Marvel superhero, hides his powers from the world is his cider block fortress in Baja Clintonville. Yet instead of using his powers for good, he taunts the world with glimpses of the good he could do for his community and fights my ongoing efforts for him to seize his destiny to cook pizza for the pizza deprived neighbors. My garage is filled with fire bricks awaiting construction of a clandestine wood fired pizza oven. If we build it, they will dine. But alas, I digress, for this last paragraph is written for our reluctant champion and the ten people who know of whom I refer.

Back on track now. The end of the series was not without some drama. As a planning and communication tool, Facebook has some weaknesses. I did add Smith’s at the last-minute so only I knew about this dark horse late entry. Due to working at my job instead of checking some late Facebook updates, I was not aware that a pizza had not been ordered from Whole World, so when I showed to pick it up, I arrived to locked doors. My next stop was Romeos where I thought I was picking up a pizza. There was none to be had at my arrival even after using every possible name I could think the order might be under. My phone failed when I called to check with Pizza Challenge central so I decided to play it safe and be a man of action therefore I ordered a pizza to be delivered. I then went to Gattos and get the last pizza for pick up.

Reflecting on the series as a whole was difficult. The day before the last round, I was a judge for the Pizza Grand Prix series at Wild Goose Creative. Having good pizza still fresh in my mind and digestive system as well as having created the judging criteria for the amateur pizza competition, the consumption of mediocre pizza was extra painful to my soul and senses. After years of defending Columbus Pizza from transplants (and citing may good places to get it) I had to accept that we do have a lot of sub par pizza served within our city limits. Such should not be the case.

What makes a pizza great? As with all things food related – there is not much objective to say on something as subjective as personal taste. I will say some basic truths do hold evident from our pizza tasting series. A good pizza needs these characteristics:

1) Good sauce. Simple. There should be something of flavor in the base – some salt, oregano, garlic…something. It must have more than tin tinged tomato taste and it should show some resistance to a strainer.

2) A ratio of sauce to cheese, cheese to crust and base crust to crust edge that allows the flavors of all to be tasted in each bite.

It is too technically complex to write out this theorem in mathematic terms but such a ratio does exist in the minds and palettes of men and such a ratio was not seen in most of the pizzas we tried. Most were weak on sauce or seemed to lack any substance or flavor in the sauce.

3) Crust should have flavor with some chewiness (this may not be a true word, but when has that ever stopped me) and some crunch or at least mild resistance in the crust edge. It can be cracker crust or thick crust but it needs to taste like something other than dough or Wonder Bread and it should be firm not soggy.

4) Cheese. Cheese should be real. The cheese ratio should not be greater in density or volume to the crust + sauce in a ratio of 3 (parts cheese) : 2 (parts sauce + crust)

5) Volume + Price = Value. Value = one advance in ranking; lack of value equals two descents in ranking. A B+ pizza that is $10.99 beats an A+ pizza at $18.99 that can only feed 1/3 the number of people as the B+ pizza. A similar ratio applies to wine. Two good bottles of $10.99 wine beat one slightly better bottle of $21.99 wine.

If you NEED good pizza this is where you will find it: The Rossi, Adriaticos, Hounddogs, Bono, Harvest Pizzeria, Hi-Beck Tavern and at an undisclosed backyard in Baja Clintonville where a reclusive pizza craftsman tinkers with a Frankengrill toiling over micro-refinements in process to perfect his pizza to surpass the 99.9999875391% level of goodness, in his mad obsession with perfection.

There is good pizza in Clintonville but most of you will never have it and the rest of you will have to accept that you are driving out of the 43214 for a decent pizza pie.

Posted in Clintonville, Columbus, culinary knowledge, culinary misadventure | Tagged: | 5 Comments »

Listen Up! One Hour WCBE Foodcast: Monday January 2nd

Posted by CMH Gourmand on December 28, 2011

We have a really big show coming up. Twelve times better in fact. Our weekly five minute radio program is going to be twelve times longer for our special hour long (first of 2012) show.

The show airs on the dial at WCBE 90.5 FM, 1 pm on Monday January 2nd. If you miss it, there is no need to fear….the interwebs are here. Audio for each show as well as links are posted at WCBE FoodCast

This episode of Foodcast features an introduction of Mike Beaumont, our producer and sound engineer; the back story of our theme song, our typical ranting and four interviews with food folks that made a mark in 2011 and who plan to do more of the same in 2012. Our Liz Lessner interview has a world premiere announcement about a new restaurant venture (not the Grass Skirt).

So listen up. Tune in often and tell all your friends. Good Night and Good Luck.

Posted in Columbus, food | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Fifth Year Anniversary: A Pause in Content

Posted by CMH Gourmand on August 8, 2011

I’m taking a break from CMH Gourmand for the dog days of August. I will pop up on Twitter on occasion.

Preview of a coming attraction?

This month marks five years of eating. In the past year I have enjoyed some great connections. Dave and Roger at Latitude 41, Matt Barbee with Rockmill Brewery, a trip to the Clintonville Beer Shack. All of my Slow Food Friends. I especially thank @Twixlen and @MollyKurth for extensive assistance with donut research.

Posted in Columbus | 4 Comments »

Tremont Goodie Shop: More Than Just A Bakery

Posted by CMH Gourmand on May 11, 2011

And now for something completely different…… guest commentary.

Columbus is lucky to have a very large and devoted cadre of food enthusiasts with an unconscious agenda to grow good food in our city. Through exploration, education, encouragement, advice, allocating 40% or more of disposable income to the culinary arts and a good amount of twittering around, these people are guiding Columbus into a more food focused town. I am happy to call many of these people my friends. I am also happy that I can not count all of these movers and shakers with all of my fingers and toes. Indeed, there are that many people escalating eating forward, around and upside down in our town.

My friend Molly Kurth serves on the board of Slow Food Columbus and is vocal supporter of our food community especially her neighborhood haunts Basi Italia, Knead and Cafe Corner. Today she is sharing one of her favorite places since childhood. Photographs are by our mutual friend Kate Djupe who is a chef, photographer, gardener, canner and person extraordinaire.

Frosted Butter Star Cookies. Those four words evoke memories, flavors, moments and smiles for me in a way that few other foods do. Those little cookies, compliments of The Tremont Goodie Shop, represent more than just delicious little baked treats (and they are delicious!). They represent tradition and community and, for me, my childhood. My grandma would take us there on our weekend adventures, letting us pick out a treat or two and, for me it was always the frosted butter star cookie. Those cookies still bring a smile to my face every time I walk in the shop and I can hardly ever walk out without a few in a bag, eating them as I walk out the door.

If you have not experienced The Goodie Shop, let me give you an idea of what you are missing so you can hurry up and add it to your list of “Things I Must Try in Columbus”. Tucked in the Tremont Shopping Center, in an area one of my friends fondly calls the Bermuda Triangle of Arlington, is a business that is first and foremost a family. And, in case you wondered how a business can be a family, let me share a story with you. Back in 2009, The Goodie Shop was going through a transition that was going to force them to close for a few months. It was emotional for the family who had owned it for more than 50 years and it was a sad moment for those in the community who had gotten their birthday cakes, holiday rolls, weekend donuts or just a simple treat while they were in the area. I became one of the fierce advocates posting on Twitter and Facebook about the closing of The Goodie Shop and our hope that it would be saved by those who loved it most. Soon there were posts about selling t-shirts and coming out to support them as they made their best effort to repurchase everything at the mandated auction, which would occur after a community rally to save The Goodie Shop. The outpouring of community support and love was overwhelming, even to the casual observer and an emotional buoy for the people trying to save the business that had become a family for this community.

During the period of time that the shop was closed, my best friends from college were coming to town for our annual girls’ weekend, which was doubling as a baby shower for one of the girls. I was saddened that I would not be able to get my cake from The Goodie Shop and began the search for where I was going to go. In the midst of the search, the returning owners of The Goodie Shop (whose father had owned it years before) reached out and said “we’ll make it for you at our home – just send us pictures of what you want and we will meet you at the Chef-o-nette to pick it up”. Yep, that is what I mean by family.

So, fast forward to 2011, where I have a few friends who have *never* been to The Goodie Shop – what? I know. But instead of berating them (okay, there was a little of that), I organized a mini-tour of the Tremont Center, where we got to sample some of The Goodie Shops classic treats. Emilie Smith, whose mom Debbie Smith, owns the shop, did an amazing job putting together a tasting for us, letting us sample some of the beloved treats and even bringing in Snowville Creamery Milk for us to enjoy with the sweets. Emilie is successfully carrying on the legacy that was created by her grandfather, one that is rooted in the community and the traditions of so many families who grew up here.

So, I will leave you with a few of my favorite treats and hope that you discover a few of your own too:
Molly’s favorites:

Frosted Butter Star Cookies (buy several, trust me.)

Chocolate Frosted Long Johns and Classic Glazed Yeast Donuts
(get there early or pre-order the donuts, when they are gone, they are gone.)

6-Pan Cinnamon Rolls (a must-have for holiday mornings in our house)

Dinner Rolls
(choose your style, so good and one less thing you have to do for Thanksgiving dinner!)

Cream Horns
(light and flaky, one of the few places that still makes their dough from scratch!)

White cake with white Icing
– Miranda, one of Debbie’s daughters, does much of the decorating (if not all of it) and has made some awesome designs – you can check out the gallery online.

Tremont Goodie Shop
located in Tremont Center
2116 Tremont Center
Upper Arlington
Hours: M-F 7a-6p; Sat 7a-5p; closed Sundays

Writer and Foodista Molly is a Columbus native who loves sharing her passion for the people and food in her community. After many years living away from Columbus, she is back and discovering how much cool stuff the city has to offer.

Posted in bakery, Columbus, culinary knowledge, desserts, donuts | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

Spagio and the Pleasure Guild: Celebration of Wine, Food and Dining with the Stars.

Posted by CMH Gourmand on March 1, 2011

I like to say Pleasure Guild. It sounds fun. However, the work this special group of people performs can be deadly serious. The Guild came into existence in 1908. The volunteers of the Pleasure Guild do many things to benefit the young patients of Children’s Hospital as well as the community of children in our city. The most important and critical activity that the Pleasure Guild engages in is sustaining and supporting the Pediatric Hospice and Palliative Care program at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. This is the only program of the kind in Central Ohio. Any child (and their family) with a terminal illness needs and cherishes this program.

This venerable volunteer organization paired with a veteran, iconic local restaurant, Spagio for The Celebration of Wine, Food and Dining with the Stars. Spagio is one of a handful of restaurants remaining from the genesis of the current Columbus culinary scene. It started life in 1981 as the Gourmet Market under the guidance of Chef Hubert Seifert. Chef Hubert continues to craft cuisine at Spagio and remains dedicated to the culinary community in and outside of Columbus. He is able to lure his chef friends from around the country and the globe to come to Columbus to help him out with a great event to support a greater cause.

I was able to attend this event for the first time on February 28th. I was impressed by the pedigree of chefs and guests in attendance for the evening. Sixteen chefs served up seventeen special dishes from Spagio’s kitchen for sampling. Several wineries shared their vintages. Some very generous donors offered impressive silent auction items. Many individuals and organizations put their money where their mouths are (and later in the form of food put that money back in their mouths) by forking out $225 per seat or more.

A good cause supported by a dedicated group of volunteers and professionals is not uncommon in Columbus. In reality, it seems that our city has some charity fueled food oriented event every week and often several to choose from on any given night most months. I think this reflects well on our city and the community of culinary all-stars and others that are willing to step up to the plate when there is need. Columbus is a city of giving whether it is through our pocket books or volunteering time or cooking up something on a day off.

This event was special because it is truly an exceptional cause. What most impressed me was thirteen of the super chefs were from outside of Columbus and Ohio yet they were willing to come to Spagio because Chef Hubert asked them to help. That says a lot about the Chef and the work that The Pleasure Guild does. Thanks from me too, everyone with a contribution to this event has my respect.

I am listing the names of the chefs as an additional thank you and because if you have not heard of them, you will and if you have not dined with them, you should.

Bill Bradley, Tom Fleming, John Hogan, Paul Kahan, William Koval, Gonzalo Martinez Cardenas, Frederic de Villeneuve, Shawn McClain, Mike Sheerin, Allen Sternweiler, Paul Virant, Dean Zanella, and Angelika Zossmayr. A special shout out to Mike Sheerin who works with my high school chum Saucission MAC at Three Floyds Brewpub and who made the best dish of the night in the form of braised snails with chicken and smoked beluga lentils. Bravo!

The three local chefs helping out are no strangers to my palate and always worthy of a kudo for the work they do: Brian Hinshaw from Cameron Mitchell Restaurants, Hartmut Handke and of course Chef Hubert. The highlight of the evening for many in attendance occurs after the food has been served, most of the wine has been poured and items auctioned off. Those that can still move about linger around and chat with the chefs on the other side of the kitchen. A night with friends is always a good way to start a week and this event shows that yes, Columbus does know how to have fun on a Monday night.

Posted in Columbus, events | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

If You Blog It, Will They Eat? Philosophy of CMH Gourmand

Posted by CMH Gourmand on February 14, 2011

De gustibus non disputandum est: “there is no disputing about tastes.”

The implication is that opinions about matters of taste are not objectively right or wrong, and hence that disagreements about matters of taste cannot be objectively resolved.

Over the last year comments about the scope of my blog and other blogs as well as the viability of the Columbus Food scene have filtered in. There are many different expectations of what a blog should or should not cover. To each their own. However, it seems like a good time to do a Citizen Kane style statement to detail what I am all about.

I did freelance writing for years. When I started out I did some restaurtant profiles and a big ice cream article for Ohio Magazine. People started calling me a restaurant critic. That made me cringe. I have never taken to that term. I always preferred food writer. I was never interested in dissecting a restaurant. I was interested in finding something that was good, or even better, something great and trying to find what made it that way. What makes a place great? The answer was always the people serving the food and the regular customers that fed the desire of the owners to keep cooking.

I later had a freelance gig for CitySearch Columbus which started out great. But when editorship moved from Columbus, to Chicago, to LA and then somewhere else, I found that they wanted me to essentially write advertising for mediocre places. At the beginning I could pick places I wanted to write about. At the end, I was given a list of not so great places to push. That did not write right so I walked.

Since then, I have chosen what I wanted to write about in my own voice which makes writing a good experience instead of a chore. I still consider myself a food writer (although I have written about non food related topics) not a critic. I write about the places I like. When I have a bad meal my silence speaks the words I choose not to share. In my experience, readers do not need help finding a bad place. I have made several friends in the restaurant trade and I choose to not to write about their places because I can’t be objective (I reserve some of that bias for Twitter). I am a writer with a blog trying to keep writing not a blogger trying to figure out how to write.

Writing a review that trashes a place is pretty easy but also unfulfilling after a few sniper attacks. Writing a critical review that is objective and offers suggestions for improvement is more appealing but not something that I choose to do very often or in public. I have sent some suggestions in private to restaurants and this feedback has been well received. I am a supporter of our food community that is growing in Columbus and would rather guide my readers to what is good, or new, or at least has the potential to be good. I am interested in growing what is good instead of beating up on what is bad.

I am not a food snob or snoot. I know a little bit about wine and beer and just a tad of cocktail history. I know what I like but I don’t expect you to think the same. A $100 bottle of wine would have to be at least 5X better than a $20 bottle of wine for me to rave about it. My palate is not that refined, my disposable income lacks that depth and I don’t care to debate taste so my picks tend be based on value over the dollar sign and comfort over pedigree. Over time, you may come to trust my opinions and tastes. I am a food enthusiast and in a few cases an evangelist – if the product or place is worthy.

There are several great food blogs and writers in town. I think we work (unconsciously) collaboratively and collectively to tell people about our underappreciated treasures. There is not much competition in our cadre and for the most part we don’t promote or push our “brands” to the level we could or maybe should. My blog reads the same with 5 followers or 500.

I sometimes have opportunities to write about a new place or event for cash or perks. If I don’t like an offer or event, I decline. If I feel that the unwritten agreement is that I write something positive, then I decline as well. If I am paid or reimbursed for my writing then I disclose this in the post and/or write something that is informational (i.e. announcement) instead of something that may look like or read as a review. If a restaurant is newly opened, as a general rule, I will not write a review until they have had several weeks or months to work out the kinks. If I do a true restaurant review, then I aim to visit three times with a group of people so I can fully taste and evaluate the food, service and ambiance.

Our city has so many good places to shout out about. We have much that is still undiscovered. While our food community is not fully defined, it is good and sometimes very good. There are amazing people in our community growing something great so this deserves our support and attention. So just eat it and go back if your meal is good. If it is good, tell your friends. If it could be better make a suggestion and see what the response is before you pass a judgement. Let’s nurture and grow what is good instead of picking apart the weeds before they die.

Posted in Columbus, culinary knowledge | 4 Comments »

Krema Nut Company: All That and a Bag of Nuts and a Peanut Butter Sandwich

Posted by CMH Gourmand on February 9, 2011

Krema Nut Company drives me nuts. Whenever I go there, I think, why don’t I come here more often. For some unfathomable reason I forget that I love their spicy peanut butter. And I can never quite convince myself to buy a “Can You Handle My Spicy Hot Nuts?” boxer shorts….but maybe someday I will have the courage to do that (or I could just buy it online). If you need any type of nut (edible) they have it or can get it. Krema is often the only place I can find Black Walnuts when it is time to make my dad’s Apple cakes. Krema has nuts but whole lot more.

Krema’s biggest claim to fame is peanut butter. They have made it since 1898. Krema may be the oldest continuous manufacturer of peanut butter in the country. If that is not the case then clearly 112 years of practice makes for a good product. Their peanut butter is all natural – no sugar, preservatives, salt etc., just fresh, fancy grade, roasted Spanish peanuts. Krema also cranks out (literally) Almond and Cashew Butter. The products are made in small batches by a master nut roaster. Krema offers tours where they show you the whole process (call for details). The Columbus Dispatch also has a nice slideshow to show off our local treasure.

Krema is a good one stop gift shop for the “fooder duder” in your life. Especially this time of year. In addition to nuts, butters and suggestive T-Shirts they have a wide selection of sweet treats including chocolates, popcorn, classic candies and a sugar free line of goodies. They also sell local favorites Johnson’s Ice Cream and Jeni’s Ice Cream by the pint.

My favorite part of the store is the on site cafe (10 am to 4:30 pm Monday to Friday and 10 am to 1:30 pm on Saturday). Using all of the Krema Nut Butters as a base – they craft over a dozen sandwich options with great flavor combinations. My two favorite sandwiches are The Kicker: Hot and Spicy Peanut Butter with raspberry preserves and The Buckeye: peanut butter with Nutella chocolate peanut butter spread. All sandwiches are served on your choice of bread. What pairs better with a PBJ o PB(something) sandwich than a milkshake. In addition to the standard Vanilla, Chocolate and Strawberry options, Krema mixes up Peanut Butter shakes (of course), PB and Jelly (perfect) and my favorite, a Buckeye shake (Chocolate and Peanut Butter). Krema developed an ingenious way to take your cafe order. They have the menu printed on a paper bag. They circle what you ordered to make sure you get everything and they you take bar coded tags for each item to the cash register in the retail section of the store to pay for your feast.

So there you have it – Krema has all of that and a bag of nuts.

Krema Nut Company
1000 West Goodale Boulevard
Grandview (more or less)
(800) 222.4132

Posted in Columbus, sandwiches | 3 Comments »

Why Mobile Food Matters

Posted by CMH Gourmand on November 4, 2010

What is the skinny on Street Food? Mobile food vending has exploded in Columbus over the last two years mirroring a national trend. I fell into the world of Taco Trucks on a whim with my good friends Bethia and Andy. We started a website called Taco Trucks Columbus and spent 2009 engrossed in all things Mexican street food. It was a great experience. I learned about parts of town I had never traveled and made very special friends among the owners and the enthusiasts I would not have met in my day-to-day life. This year Street Eats Columbus was created to track and promote the growing non-taco truck vendors that are popping up all over town.

Why has mobile vending gone vogue across the country and especially in Columbus? To quote the 1992 Clinton campaign, “It’s the economy, stupid”. A brick and mortar restaurant costs a lot of money to get going: rent, utilities, (in Columbus) a complicated and confusing series of building and business codes, long hours, etc. The failure rate for new restaurants for the first year is 25% or greater and cumulatively over three years 60% or more. (Other studies report a failure rate as great as 90%). The restaurant business is hard going in good times and perilous in a recession. If you pick a poor location – you are stuck with it.

For many people, getting a loan is the hard part. In a risk adverse economy, money for a new business can be in short supply. Start up costs for a food cart, Taco Truck or trailer kitchen can range from $30,000 to $100,000 or more. Finding used, serviceable equipment is easy so if you are a do it yourselfer and a good cook, you could have your own business for a fraction of what a restaurant would cost. Mobile food means mobility. If you have a bad location – you can move in an hour. If you know where a concentration of hungry people is – you can go there. Mobile operations have smaller menus and usually a quicker turn around for product. Most operations cook what they need for the day or week with little or no food going to rot. This is good for eliminating food waste but a bit frustrating for folks new to street food when they find an item is unavailable.

A food entrepreneur with a good idea can test it out with minimal risk when their cafe is on wheels. A strong concept can spawn additional food carts or a loyal following that will follow the owner to a brick and mortar location. In San Francisco, a good number of mobile food vendors are making six digit profit margins per year. Mobile food can work if you do it right. Another positive of going mobile is customer interaction and instant feedback – chefs love this and often feel disconnected from their customers in a larger operation.

Here are a few local examples. Super Torta II is one of the oldest Taco Trucks in the city. Last year they opened a restaurant near their location. Skillet, a darling of local food enthusiasts, started a mobile operation to spread the gospel of their food first, local, in season cuisine to other parts or town and untapped audiences. Ray Ray’s Hog Pit in Clintonville has grown a loyal following serving BBQ until in runs out (it often does before posted closing hours). Owner Jaime Anderson previously operated restaurants but has found mobile food to be more rewarding and less hassle.

There are some challenges to what I may have painted as a sure thing, slam-dunk profit magnet. Winter weather shuts many of the vendors down or reduces their hours. More than a few Columbusites have a fear and loathing of “street meat”. Some people believe that the food and workspaces are unsanitary. In my experience, I am happy to take chances with a kitchen and cook I can see in operation verses a hidden kitchen and preparers I cannot see. In the world of Taco Trucks, I would often tell people to order one taco and watch how it is prepared and if they see something that scares them – they are only out $1.25. I prefer my odds with a mobile vendor. There are other “perception” problems as well but these are slowly being addressed and acceptance is growing.

Mobile food is not new to Columbus or our country. It was a pathway to being a business owner for early 20th century immigrants selling sausages, hot dogs and more. This food fed factory workers throughout the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s spawning creations including Italian Beef sandwiches, Po Boy’s, hot dogs and more. Mobile food fueled a transition to fast food establishments and a new way of eating. Today, entrepreneurs are relearning and expanding on something old while adding new elements to street fare with vegetarian, locavore and new immigrant food options.

The culture of street food is growing in Columbus. In October, there were two well-attended mobile food events (Food Truck a Palooza at The Ohio Historical Society and Food Cart Food Court at Wonderland). The response to these food cart conglomerations and demand for more of them was overwhelming. Several of the vendors ran out of food. It can be a good thing when supply does not meet demand as long as people keep wanting more. This bodes well.

Now it is time to drive my subject matter home. Why does mobile food matter? The ability to go out and cook food one believes in promotes diversity and innovation in the food the rest of us eat. Entrepreneurs that would not have a chance with a brick and mortar location are getting the opportunity to follow their dreams while we benefit from new menus instead of safe stagnation. Columbus has long sought an opportunity to find an identity. With support and designating some permanent food court areas, our city can establish a niche on the culinary map. Food and food styles identify a city (Chicago: Hot dogs, Pizza, Italian Beef Sandwiches), New York (hot dogs, Reuben’s, bagels), Philadelphia (Philly cheesesteaks)….. You get my drift. We may not find our signature sandwich but we can blow away our old moniker of fast food capital of the world by becoming known as a progressive, innovative food town. Mobile food can be part of that movement. If we eat it, they will come.

Posted in Columbus, food, Gastronomic Stimulus | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

CLEGourmand: New Series, New Category: Comparing and Contrasting CMH and CLE

Posted by CMH Gourmand on October 28, 2010

Cleveland has been on my mind this year. I have always been a fan of our northeastern neighbor. Most of my college friends hail from there. However, my 21st century trips to Cleveland had been for funerals or shows at Beachland Ballroom. My Cleveland food to do list had been growing to an overwhelming point of no return. In particular I have stalked the Dim and Den Sum Food Truck (@dimanddensum). This mobile food vendor has taken innovation and customer focus to a higher level for mobile food or any food.

I have always had respect for the Cleveland food scene and reports kept coming in of great new places. As local blogger, Cleveland Foodie says:

“Cleveland might not have the quantity as other cities, but we have the quality. From gourmet grocers, to mom and pop sandwich shops to high-end celebrity chef restaurants. It’s a great place for a foodie.”

And then, something really tweaked my interest while stirring my quiet rage. The show No Reservations profiled two places in our fair city. Part of the shtick of the segment involved slights on Columbus referring to our town as a city of strips malls and Applebee’s (yes, we do have these). The tone was dismissive. If it had just been Anthony Bourdain, I might not have been irked. His sideman in the commentary was Michael Ruhlman from Cleveland. Granted, the show was based on a very brief trip to Columbus and Chef Ruhlman does not control editing of the show. However, I expected a little defense of our food scene from another Ohioan who has some experience with Columbus and whom I know tracked the coming and goings of Rosendales when it was open. Such was not the case. As the Twitterverse blew up with rantings about Ruhlman and the tone of the show, his response was that he was ignorant of what Columbus might have to offer. Phooey to that. Know thy neighbor I thought. If Ruhlman could not come here then I was going to go to Cleveland to rid myself of my own ignorance of the Cleveland Culinary scene. I made a hit list (of restaurants) and wondered when I was going to make my sojourn.

I received an e-mail from Positively Cleveland (the Convention and Visitors Bureau for the city) asking if I might like to come up for a culinary tour of the area. Looking at the stops on tentative tour schedule, I was excited. There were two old favorites on the list but many new discoveries to explore.

To say I was impressed with what I saw and ate is an understatement. As someone that twitters with great restraint, I was positively prolific for four days. You can find many of my field reports on Twitter under the hashtag – #CLEGourmand.

During the trip, I thought of the Columbus comments from No Reservations in contrast to an entire episode the show did on Cleveland, which was chuck full of compliments. I started to compare the cities. These are my thoughts.

Cleveland has an identity – “Mistake on the Lake”, Professional sports figures and teams, home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, A Christmas Story and the Drew Carey Show, etc. People “know” Cleveland. There are people who are Clevelanders. Most of the USA does not know Columbus. Our city is largely undefined.

Cleveland is a city with long established, multi-generational ethnic neighborhoods, where cultures and countries integrate their culture and cuisine into the city. (Aside: If you want to explore the ethic eateries of Cleveland on your own, the best guide is Cleveland Ethnic Eats 8th Edition: The Guide to Authentic Ethnic Restaurants and Markets in Northeast Ohio by Laura Taxel).

Columbus on the other hand is an expanding city of transplants and job seekers. Once people plant roots here, they tend to assimilate. We do not tend to have the depth of neighborhoods that metropolitan Cleveland does. Have you seen many Germans in German Village or “real” Irish in Dublin. Most ethic residents have dispersed throughout our city and blended in and during the process, we lost much of what their cultures had to offer. Ethnic food has flavor and tradition. Sure, we have Schmidt’s, some alt-eateries (Indian, Somali, etc.) and our awesome Taco Trucks but we lack neighborhoods that sustain the full flavor and tradition of ethnic food. Most of our true immigrants are first or second generation whereas the ethnic neighborhoods of Cleveland go back to the 19th century.

A community needs to spark to go from good to great. In Athens, the spark is a restaurant called Casa Nueva. This co-op restaurant has fueled the careers and styles of many other restaurateurs, artisan food makers and farmers. In Cleveland, part of that spark comes from Michael Ruhlman (a chef/writer who choose to stay in Cleveland), who in turn wrote about Michael Symon. They both became Food TV celebrities showcasing as well as proud of their talents and their city. More fuel comes from ex-Symon Sous Chefs contributing to a food first, localavore, green renaissance in Cleveland. Collectively, many of the chefs and restaurants in Cleveland support and collaborate with each other to go green, source local ingredients and create foods with innovative spins on old ethnic and traditional classics.

Columbus has great restaurants, food artisans and even a few farmers. However, we just have not quite found that spark that draws serious attention to our city. We definitely do not have a strong community pride that is proud and confident in what we have to offer. In our city, people’s choice “best of” restaurant polls consistently list places like Olive Garden (for best Italian) and Red Lobster (for best seafood). Right or wrong, that does not support a culinary civic pride. Cleveland does have pride. People in the kitchens, behind the counters and in the streets are proud of their city and their food. We need to get on that.

In Cleveland, innovation in food (plus green restaurants, sustainable agriculture and urban gardens) comes from the collaboration among chefs, suppliers and the community. We have some of that in Columbus but we do not have the same zeal and passion for it – yet. Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream is soon to open a location in Chagrin Falls. Maybe that can be a link to bring our two cities into the start of a culinary collaboration. We give them ice cream, perhaps they can send us more pride in what we have to offer. We are in this together. We are what we eat and we are eating very well.

So, in the coming months I will be sharing CLEGourmand discoveries from my culinary tour in October. More trips to research the Cleveland food scene are needed and being plotted (hopefully places such as Melt, Lolita and a strip on Lee Road I call Chicken Row). I want to find a way to support and work on growing a culinary connection between Cleveland and Columbus. Our cities count and cannot be discounted as flyover cities, rust belt write-offs or third rate restaurant regions any longer. Our cities rock. Columbus and Cleveland are going to have a role in the future of food in this country. We can collaborate on promoting two Ohio cities that are proud of our food and the people preparing it.

Posted in CLEGourmand, Columbus, Ohio, Road Trip | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

First Bite: Piada Italian Street Food

Posted by CMH Gourmand on September 1, 2010

Piada Italian Street Food debuted to Columbus on September 1st. Owner Chris Doody has the street credibility to purvey street food after years of success at Lindey’s, Bravo, Brio and Bon Vie. The concept has been in the works for over a year and he could be seen on site opening day reviewing and fine tuning last minute details. Although the grand opening was low key, turn out on day one was high.

The restaurant is located in Upper Arlington, not too far from the OSU west campus. In holds a corner spot in a retail strip with a few other restaurants. The exterior is restrained but does have a pick up window (not a drive thru – the restaurant is very clear about that). The comparisons to Chipotle cannot be avoided, visitors and reviewers from now to whenever will most likely compare these two. The models are similar – fast, fresh food with high quality ingredients you can choose. Consider Piada an Italian Chipotle with a twist. A really good twist.

Pictured above is a piada and a (part of) a Piada Bread stick. Pictured below is an unfolded piada.

What is a piada? – It is a thin, Italian flatbread dough, made with organic flour. It is round and slightly larger that a large tortilla. The dough is cooked quickly on a hot grilling stone to crisp and bubble before your eyes. The piada is passed down an assembly line where you can add a variety of ingredients. And the end of the line it is folded over into a burrito style breaded package.

The ordering is broken down into a five step process with signage to guide your path. The first choice is to order a piada, pasta bowl or chopped salad bowl (um, the name of the place is Piada, how was I not going to get that). The next step is decide if you want strands of angel hair pasta added to your piada (sure why not). Then it is on to select a grilled items for the innards: chicken, steak, Italian Sausage, Salmon (yes, really), Italian Meats (Sopressata, mortadella and porchetta…oh yes) or seasonal fresh vegetables. The first two meats are cooked in a blend of rosemary, garlic and lemon. Step three – pick a sauce: Pomodoro, Diavolo, Red Pepper Pesto, Fresh Basil Pesto or Parmesan. This is followed by a choice of salad dressing, vegetables and cheeses. You can make a dagwood of a piada with little effort.

Side options include: a Piada stick – a long (about 1 foot), thin freshly baked bread stick with a variety of fillings served with dipping sauce, artichoke and spinach dip, Calamari, side salad or soup. The final choice is a beverage which include Italian sodas and Peroni beer.

The ordering process is straight forward and fast. The quality of the ingredients is impressive and everything was fresh. The interior is cool, blending the essence of Chiptole and Northstar with a European, IKEA meets rustic feel. The block wood tables in particular caught my eye and I think I may take one home as part of my next carry out order. The motor scooter logo should be fun for Piada play with over time although there are no plans for scooter piada delivery (bummer).

I think Doody and company have a winner here. I definitely enjoyed my first bite.

Piada Italian Street Food
1315 West Lane Ave
Upper Arlington/Columbus
Piada website

Piada Italian Street Food on Urbanspoon

Posted in Columbus, restaurants | Tagged: , | 8 Comments »