CMH Gourmand – Eating in Columbus & Ohio

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Elite Eating Hack: Rockmill Tavern Spicy Chicken Sandwich

Posted by cmh gourmand on August 18, 2019

The absolute best sandwich in Columbus, among many worthy candidates, is the Spicy Chicken Sandwich at Rockmill Tavern in the Brewery District. Saying the best of anything food related in this city is a bit daring, in that often a flood of counter arguments and in some cases trolling will ensue. At least I am not declaring the best pizza in Columbus, such audacity would likely get me lynched.

Rockmill Tavern is no stranger to “best of”. It was voted best new restaurant when it opened in the fall of 2016 and has maintained top ten status since. In what may be the most contested best of category in the city, BEST BURGER, Rockmill has generally landed in the number one or two spot along with Preston’s. (I love Preston’s so if I was ever forced to choose between the two burgers I would just eat both and call it a draw).

The Spicy Chicken sandwich is a beautiful work of culinary art. Fried chicken style breading encases a gigantic long slice of chicken bread that extends past the bun at least two to three inches on each pole of the sandwich. It features a generous allotment of spicy (but not too spicy) honey butter. To complement the light heat, a thin layer of urfa mayo is slathered on and a small stack of thinly sliced bread and butter zucchini (not quite pickles but serving that role). Sandwich all of this between a brioche bun, add more butter and when available top with a delicious, buttery, red pepper and the end result is the Spicy Chicken Sandwich. Take this same basic concept and place on their amazing biscuits and you have essentially the same sandwich in biscuit format known as the Chicken Biscuit when you can get it

Let me cut to the chase to get to the hack, because it is a game changer. This hack was created by a regular customer (once or twice per week) which shared it with bar staff who in turn shared with me.

Elite Eating Hack for Rockmill Tavern Spicy Chicken Sandwich

1) Take the pepper off the top of the bun, remove the stem and place on the chicken.

2) Lift the bun and flip over to make it less messy to eat and to infuse more butter into the chicken.

3) Eat the sandwich. Consider ordering a second.

Suggested pairings: Rockmill Dubbel, Old Mill Rocky or Rockmill Witbier

Please note: The photo in this post is of the Chicken Biscuit Sandwich. It is similar, and equally good, but not exactly the same – however is does accurately show the bun to chicken ratio and basic configuration sandwich. I did not take a photo of the Spicy Chicken Sandwich because more often than not, I prefer to eat my meal instead of tweet it, I find it is much more satisfying.

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Posted in culinary knowledge, Food For Thought, sandwiches | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Gattos: Columbus Pizza, Clintonville Icon

Posted by cmh gourmand on July 13, 2019

Gattos Pizza was founded in 1952 by brothers Jimmy and Joe Gatto. It is the oldest continuously operated pizzeria in Columbus by that, meaning the same family at the exact same location for almost seventy years. Without an ounce of exaggeration, you can not create a place like this anymore. There are a few pizza shops that have a slightly longer history but the Gattos are among our founding families of pizza.

Mounted on the wall, is a large black and white photo showing the view out Gatto’s front window taken shortly after the business opened. Today, looking hard at the photo one will see little has changed from that opening day in 1952. The original vulcan gas oven was replaced by two newer models to increase production and the business started taking credit cards in June of 2019 otherwise you could still be in the 1950s. The majority of the employees over the years have been Gatto children, cousins and close friends which has continued a persistent family atmosphere to the pizzeria.

The founding Gattos grew up in Flytown, the Italian part of Columbus that is largely the Short North today. Joe’s family was living on the south side (near the original Donatos would begin in the 1960’s) when the pizza shop opened. “It was Uncle Jimmy’s idea and they chose Clintonville because the north side was growing” per Vince Gatto, a second generation Gatto who runs the shop today. Jimmy had experience working in bars and the family as a whole had a lot of restaurant experience.

Vince started working at Gattos when he was 10, wiping pans and rolling dough. He took the bus from the south side to Clintonville every Friday and Saturday to work until he was old enough to drive. Vince, his brother Joe (Joe Gatto II) and a cousin, Bill Fulcher (whose mother was a Gatto) bought the business from Joe and Jimmy in 1983 after years of working in the shop. At the time all three had full time jobs so they divided up days and responsibilities to keep the Gattos going. Vince took over many of the operational duties of Gattos in 1993 when he was one of 50,000 employees laid off from Sears on the same day. Today (2019) Joe II is no longer at Gattos and Don comes in once per week.

Vince says there are too many stories to tell from being a family run business in the same neighborhood for almost seventy years however a one day does stand out. In the early 2000’s a hurricane force storm stuck Columbus and especially Clintonville very hard causing the area to lose power for an extended period of time. Vince had the day off which he had started with a memorable day of golf with friends. He decided to check on Gattos because of the storm. When he called in he was told that they were getting ready to close the store because the power was out. Vince told the employee on the other end of the phone to “stay open and keep answering the phone” and he would be right there. He spent the rest of the day rolling dough by hand (like the old days) and prepping pizza which they could still cook out of their gas ovens. It ended up being one of their busiest days ever since no one else was open. By the end of the day, they had little product left which was great since they had no working refrigeration.

A great Gatto’s tradition is the annual “Sausage Party” which started in the late 1990’s. Every year, during the third week of December a collection of friends, family and long time customers gather to spend a day making Gatto’s sausage, often up to three hundred to four hundred pounds. Everyone takes some home to serve for the holidays.

The sausage recipe hails from Sicily and was handed down to the pizza shop by Vince’s grandfather. As is often the case of Italian and Sicilian sausage recipes, the mix has a hearty dose of fennel which is the common denominator for the handful of long time Columbus pizza purveyors who still make their own sausage. When asked why he continues this labor intensive endeavor, Vince responded he has tasted other commercial sausage over the years but never found anything he thought tastes better. Another unique property of the sausage used on their pizza is cutting it into rectangular slices instead placing on the cheese as crumbles.

Gatto’s also makes its own dough from scratch as well as meatballs, sauce and the only salad dressing they offer, Italian. It is a hands on, labor intensive business following a model no new pizzeria would follow. Today the challenges of continuing the legacy are changing eating preferences, more competition, less available parking and nearby demographic of grad students and new residents who do not have the same tradition of going to Gatto’s by default. Those that have not discovered Gattos’s are missing out on good food and time capsule experience. Those that grew up with Gattos would benefit with a pizza to rediscover the shop and to confirm that nothing has changed over the decades.


And a here is a bit to connect the dots.

Pizza Community

Joe Gatto (founder of Gattos) and Romeo Sirij (who started the first pizzeria in Columbus) were best friends since their Flytown days and continued to be frequent visitors to each other’s businesses and homes throughout their lives. Tommy Iacono (Tommy’s Pizza) and Joe Gatto (Senior) were also great friends who saw each other almost daily when they retired and frequently played golf together for decades. A binding part of the original Columbus pizza community was that most of the shop owners from the 1950’s and 1960’s as well as their suppliers grew up together in the same tight knit neighborhood, attended the same churches and frequented the Italian American Golf Club (based at the Riveria Country Club for decades) when they could find a day off. They may not have worked together but they did enjoy playing together.

Posted in Best Pizza in Columbus, Clintonville, culinary knowledge, pizza | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Reflections on Taco Trucks Columbus Ten Years Later

Posted by cmh gourmand on March 4, 2019

One half score years ago, in the cold depths of winter and at a kitchen table in Victorian Village the Taco Truck Columbus website was launched / conceived. As one of the three creators of this large body of work, the passage of time feels more like four score and seven years ago. The world, Columbus and my world view in particular are very different now than in that place long ago but not far away.

By my recollection, the seed for this project began in January of 2009. Bethia Woolf and I were talking about an assignment she had for a class at Ohio State. She was thinking about writing a paper about authentic, non Mexican Latino restaurants in Columbus (there are quite a few). This sparked a memory of a taco truck I have driven by on Morse Road many times over the preceding month. I was surprised that it was open in the winter. I was starting to wonder how many Taco Trucks might be in Columbus. And, I had never eaten at one in Columbus and only a handful anywhere else. When I wondered this out loud the focus of Bethia’s research paper shifted and so did how we would be spending a lot of our time for the next few years.

Doing some Google searches, asking the Columbus Underground community about any Taco Trucks that others had spotted and locating a short-lived blog about Taco Trucks a list of eight to ten was compiled for us to seek out. The two of us set out to locate these mysterious mobile food purveyors in the dead of winter. We climbed snow banks, I stumbled through conversations using very rusty Spanish and we discovered lengua and horchata. It was quite a day.

As we were rehashing our discoveries of the first mission, Bethia’s boyfriend Andy became intrigued by our adventures and joined in. Over the course of a month, we had documented well over twenty taco trucks and trailers. This was amazing to us. First, it was winter and in 2009, there was no significant mobile food in Columbus so the concept of so many trucks serving incredible Mexican and Central American cuisine was mind-blowing. We as self anointed food explorers, open to eating all type of “weird” things, had no idea these trucks existed. As motivated as we were to seek out and devour new tacos, new tortas and boldly go as far as the west side we were concerned that few if any others in Columbus knew about these trucks. They were hard to find, frequently had inconsistent hours and more often than not there were language barriers that has to be sorted through. At this point what was intended to be a class paper or in my case, a single blog post, called for, maybe even demanded a website. At the start, we hoped we might find up to ten, by March, we had a list of almost forty.

We wanted to list all of the trucks we found and tell their stories but we believed that more was needed to get people to seek out this mobile businesses. It may seem odd today, but in 2009 many people in Columbus were wary of mobile food, let alone immigrant “street meat”. We wanted to take away some of the hesitations people would have about trying these trucks on their own so we added a map, listed out key terms, etc. We kept finding more trucks and the site kept getting bigger. We learned a a lot along the way. We found taco trucks, and trailers and buses offered much more than tacos. We found foods from all regions of Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia, and more. It turned out that about 10% of the population of Columbus was Latino and there were rich “hidden” communities on the West side and the Morse Road/Cleveland Avenue corridor. We met people young and old, poor and….less poor but always rich in experience and passion.

To help people embrace these small businesses on wheels, meet-ups were coordinated. Then a Night of 1000 Tacos , then a Night of 1001 Tacos, and television appearances with Johnny DiLoretto and so on and so on. Ten years later, Taco Trucks are common place in our community and no longer the new and novel “adventure” to people they once were.

There were a lot of outcomes from Taco Trucks Columbus. Bethia and Andy started Columbus Food Adventures and offered a tour of some of the best Taco Trucks in Columbus for many years. Many of the trucks received a much needed boost in customers and acceptance. I believe that the interest in taco trucks helped pave the way for more types of mobile food in Columbus, starting in 2010.

I have many memories connected to Taco Trucks Columbus. The most poignant involved Lidia from Los Potosinos. When we discovered her original trailer, it was tucked behind a car wash in a bad location on the west side. I discovered some of best chicken I have had in my life. When we first met her, she was making a handful of dollars each day. She did find a better location, but not before she and her family were evicted from their apartment. I will never forget the day she invited us to share some chicken with us. We were not prepared for her to send each of us home with mounds of food made just for us while she packing up her belongings to move due to being evicted. That act moved me in many ways, I will never forget it. It was humbling.

I met countless people I would not have met while discovering Taco Trucks. I befriended the owner of Taco Nazo and learned about many of the things he does to support the community. I even arranged for him to serve food at my work place at the time. In this instance, it was the first and in many cases, probably the last time any of those co-workers had truly authentic Mexican food.

Our early morning TV appearances with John Diloretto led to a radio show called Foodcast including him on WCBE for three years. In my case, I became even more interested in mobile food. I attended Hot Dog University to learn how to operate a hot dog cart. I wrote a business plan to run a food truck rental business which indirectly led me to the Food Fort, an incubator for mobile food vendors that I ended up working for. I also served on the Mobile Food Advisory committee for the city of Columbus helping to create the regulations that govern trucks today. I received a Community Award at the second Food Truck Festival for my work with the mobile food community, so yes, this inspired a big part of my life for several years. I also began to appreciate the middle school Spanish classes I ignored, the high school Spanish I endured and the college level Spanish I never thought would have a practical application later in my life. Just being able to say a few words in Spanish opened up a new world to me. I learned a lot, I had a good time and I met some wonderful people. All of this as the result of being curious about one taco truck that I could easily ignored or forgotten about, or more typically written off as not worth the effort.

Here are links to a few selected Taco Truck adventures.

Taco truck trek viva la vida taco

Los Potosinos

Taco Truck Tour

We had not had an opportunity to update Taco Trucks Columbus in over two years. It is not due to a lack of desire, just a lack of time. I wanted to do a “Taco Truck Census” and update the list of active trucks, with hours, and etc., but again, there is just not time to take on a project like this right now. My hope is that a collective effort might be orchestrated that we could update the list of trucks in time for the 2020 Census with a few “census workers”. That might happen, we will see. If you want to volunteer to be a taco census worker, make a comment and maybe we can figure out a way to update information for the new decade.

Posted in culinary knowledge, culinary misadventure | 2 Comments »

The Search for Great Gluten Free Pizza in Columbus….(has ended?)

Posted by cmh gourmand on January 28, 2019

In July of 2018, CMH Spouse and I were tasked with making some dietary changes for CMH Griffin to see if he might benefit from any of them. We were highly motivated to make this work. One of the items limited from his diet is gluten. I love gluten. CMH Spouse LOVES gluten. Griffin was a fan as well. He has a foragers sensibility to food selection and he likes to eat everything, especially most fruits and vegetables but he has very special place in his evolving palate for pasta and pizza. We did a lot of researching and my wife has engaged in a lot of trial and error to find reasonable substitutes for CMH Griffin. Some have been successful, some have been mildly disappointing and more than a few have been dismally horrible. Our great challenge was pizza. We made it our mission to make sure our little man would not miss out on this staple of our diet which is often a key component of our weekly food pyramid. We also needed to make sure we could eat what CMH Griffin has as well, to ensure he was not suffering but to also prevent him from dumbing down his pizza palate.

We were determined to leave no pizza stone unturned in our quest to make sure our child would have access to not just good gluten-free pizza but very good and we dared dream that we might even find great pizza in the process.

We established these criteria to allow us to guide CMH Griffin on this gluten-less journey. Some of these were added later after a lot of trial and more than a bit or error.

1) Will Griffin eat it
2) Will he eat a lot of it
3) Does it taste good to us
4) Is it still edible 4 hours later
5) Is it edible the next day
6) Can you reheat it
7) Can it be eaten cold without regret
8) It can not cost a fortune.

We have not tried every gluten-free pizza out there, but we have tried most. We have not tried every recipe for homemade gluten-free crust, but we did try a few of the best according to the internet. While this is still a work in progress, these are our findings so far – these are presented in order of best to not so much.

The default toppings for CMH Griffin are either ham and pineapple or pepperoni.

1) Iacanos: So far there is no gluten-free pizza that holds a candle to Iacanos. This was a slam dunk the first time we tried it and it has never failed us since. The pizza pie crust/shell is one of the few things they do not make in house. I have not been able to determine who they source their shells from. We do know from observation, they us use high quality cheese and other ingredients including house made sauce. They cook the pizza longer than most other places but not too long. The crust is thinner. The combination of this crust and longer cook time seems to be the key to gluten free pizza success. Iacanos gluten free pizza tastes great later in the day and is still edible 24 hours later.

2) Pizza House We are two for two on this one. Very good. I liked this more than their regular pizza we tried side by side the first time.

3) Donatos: This is a strong third place finisher but still does not come close to Iacanos. Because we can have this delivered to our home, this has become a frequent flier into our kitchen table. I have decided I like the gluten-free version slightly better than the gluten version of Donatos. The crust is not thicker but it seems denser. It seems to have a trace more flavor. It holds up very well to the next day test. CMH Spouse says that because the cheese goes to the edge, the crust is less disappointing. We like this one, probably more than we want to.

4) Kroger: Not Krogers or Kroger’s by the way, Kroger. The frozen, thin gluten-free Kroger brand pizzas are value priced and a frequent emergency lunch for our little man. The sauce is a bit weak, but overall, this one has the best cost to benefit ratio of any pizza we tried. It has earned a strong fourth place ranking.

5) Teritas: Good. Mainly due to the quality of ingredients and a longer cook time. We have only tried this once. If the location was closer, we would have more empirical data.

6) Masseys: The main failing for this was, and it may seem nuts to say this, too much toppings. The toppings to pizza ratio for Massey’s is always above industry average. In the case of a gluten-free pie, it takes away from the pizza by not allowing it to cook evenly especially the crist. This is still a good gluten-free pizza but to better test this one out, next time we will get cheese only.

7) Tarantos: I can’t remember anything about this one except that it was consumed fairly quickly. We need to test this one more.

8) Hounddogs: I am a long time, unapologetic fan of Hounddogs Pizza. The first gluten-free pizza we had here was the best individual gluten-free pizza we have ever had. Unfortunately, we have never been able to get another gluten-free pizza from here that was 75% as good. We see the most inconsistency here. The gluten-free pizzas range from good to OK depending on who is manning the oven. This is a heart breaker we had the best but it appears to have been a fluke.

9) LaRosa’s: This chain does a good job of making sure their gluten-free pizzas have a special prep area, cook sheet, etc, to minimize cross contamination with gluten. We liked this one but we did not love it and we can’t recall why.

10) Mellow Mushroom: Mellow Mushroom gets a lot of points for providing a lot of detail about their gluten-free pizzas – how they make them, where they make them, using a separate kitchen, etc. As for delivery of the product to the table, our service was horrible causing me to complain stridently and the pizza itself, was worse than the worst frozen pizza you have ever tried. I rank this a firm D-. I would give it an F but I did not spit it out.

We still have a few more to try on our list. If you have tried any of the following, let me know your thoughts in the comment section. This is what we are still curious about trying: Pizza House, Marcos, Harvest and Mama Mimi’s.

These are our general complaints about most gluten-free pizzas.

A) They often have a grainy texture

B) After a short period of time, they develop a paste like texture and consistency

C) They have a “nuclear shelf life” measured in minutes and sometimes seconds after they come out of the oven. They get noticeably less appetizing after an hour and often are inedible 4 to 24 hours later, even in the most perfect conditions.

D) They lack gluten


Special Thanks to CMH Spouse and CMH Griffin for persevering in our quest to find a decent gluten-free pizza.

Post Post Script: Friends have strongly suggested trying out the following places, so we will soon: Pies & Pints, Blaze and Goremade

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

Culver’s, Swensons & Preston’s, OH My!: A Study and Discussion of Hamburgers with a Culinary Dream Team

Posted by cmh gourmand on January 10, 2019

Even though I have a great apathy and lesser antipathy toward Facebook, sometimes it can be a useful tool. A post I made about Ritzy’s led a to a vigorous discussion about the restaurant (much of it mildly disappointing), the hamburgers they make and hamburgers in general. As the hamburger discussion starting to roll out of control Culver’s and Swenson’s were mentioned several times. Some people had tried one or the other, a few both, but one young man by the name of Kenny, had not experienced either burger and was unsure on his stance about Ritzy’s burgers. When that comment dropped, the decision was made to help Kenny with this deficiency by arranging a K-Dog’s Burger Bash which was a progressive dining on hamburgers. Since we all LOVE Preston’s we opted to include it as an additional burger joint. Prior to embarkation and because there would be children present we opted to drop Ritzy’s at the last-minute to save time, money and calories. Kenny shared he had made it back for a second run at Ritzy’s and found the burgers lacking, so we sent the place packing. (Authors note: I felt mildly guilty about dropping Ritzy’s. The next day I went in for ice cream which was great on previous visits but was disappointing, poorly scooped and portioned and over frozen, ice cream).

We set a date and the deed was committed to. I had an absolute dream team to objectively try Culvers, Swensons and Prestons.

Our line up:

First, the guest of honor, K-Dog, Kenny Donnelly of Kenny’s Meat Wagon. The Man, the Myth, the Meat. Most people are not aware that Kenny killed a bear with his bare hands while cooking an egg….when he was seven.

Joe Arcilla the 61Forty-Niner blog and his partner in crime Chris.

Laura Lee, accomplished chef and the owner/operator of the Ajumama Food Truck

Matthew Heaggans, accomplished chef, some say divisive, of Preston’s and Ambrose & Eve with his fine dining companion Cindy. Those that listen to Chefs in the City on WOSU may know Matt by other names: Chris, Dave, etc. But it is Matt. Matthew if you are nasty.

Ed Kowalski, accomplished chef and one of the men of ManBque Columbus.

Matt Swint, of Matija Breads and his family. Fun fact about the Swint clan, they can eat an entire pig is less than seventeen minutes.

And me, trust me, I was not there as eye candy, I was a charity case for this group.

Our first stop was Culver’s in Powell. If you are not familiar with the chain it started in 1984 in Sauk City Wisconsin. It has grown into a small Midwestern empire. They are known for their Butter Burgers and to some extent their custard. We took a team photo then placed our orders.

Our overall consensus was: meh. Not bad but not impressive.

These were some concerns and lessons learned:
-the burger should be hot when served – not all were
-the cheese should be melted, to the point of infusion, into the patty, here the cheese did not experience that level of heat
-the bun should be toasted – not all were toasted to satisfaction
-a disparate ratio. Size does matter. Most people ordered singles. This started a discussion on the “ratio” in particular the bun to burger ratio. The ratio was slightly off here. This is where we were indoctrinated in the Swint Doctrine, concisely stated as “always get the double” delivered with a smirk by the guy that ordered a double burger melt – ensuring both the right ratio and a properly toasted bread. If you get the double, you increase the odds of a good ratio.

Another take away from Matt and Cindy. The Culver’s in Pickerington is the best in Central Ohio and the Culver’s in Hilliard is better – at least in the heating and toasting arenas.

An additional interesting feature at Culver’s was a screen telling the story of their burgers. Propaganda for our group? Maybe.


Next, we found ourselves spread out in the parking lot at the recently opened Swensons in Powell. We were able to stay in touch by text and I made the rounds from car to car, confusing the “runners” but we had to defer most of our discussion of Swensons to our next stop. Laura told us to get nutella shakes, I listened and it was a good decision. Cindy suggested I try the Potato Teezers, I completely forgot and regret my over sight. The teasers blend potato, cheese and jalapeno – how could that go wrong, in my book it can only go right. But I will have to wait to know.

General pluses on Swensons from the group: great shakes and happy to have cheese curds and potato teezers as snacks.

On the burger side, the group liked Swensons as a whole, greater than Culver’s as a whole, but some of the sum of the parts were off. A few people can not wrap their heads around the brown sugar in the burger (and the bun?). However, the ratio was considered to be better and having followed the Swint Doctrine, I was not disappointed. Overall, Swensons was more than meh and much more for some.


We then made our way to the Preston’s at Woodlands Backyard.

Collectively, we love Preston’s. I have not really written about Prestons because I can’t be objective about it. I have followed Matt Heaggans career, in part because he was a client when he started his path of Culinary greatness in Columbus – including but not limited to Swoop Food Truck, Flatiron, Rossi and a pop up at the Hey Hey. (Here is some more on Matt from the past.) Teaming up with Catie Randazzo, the two have made great additions to the city with Preston’s and Ambrose and Eve. Even though we were all full, we ate Preston’s because the burgers are that good.

It was here, with all of us together again that we discussed but did not need to debate what made a good burger. In spite of being in a collective food coma, we were able to have a meaningful and unanimous conclusion on what makes a great burger. Here are our criteria:

1) The “ratio” specifically the bun to burger ratio. It is not an exact percentage but biting into a burger you know if you have too much or too little bun or burger in the first bite. Let’s call this the Kowalski Goldilocks ratio. If the ratio favors much more meat than bun then that would be properly labeled the Kenny Directive.

2) You can’t have a good burger without a good bun. No Discussion needed here. You cannot have a good burger or sandwich without good bread.

3) The bun should be toasted. Alton Brown, my former doppelgänger would have some science to support this but a lightly toasted bun makes for a better burger – it holds in the juices and everything. It just takes a few seconds.

4) Cheese please. You could have a burger without cheese, but why would a sane person do that. The cheese should be properly melted so it integrates into the nooks and crannies of the patty.

5) Temperature: A well done burger is OK but it hides some of the flavors, the same with medium rare anything else is OK and good to serve. Just make sure it arrives to the diner with more than a trace of heat and properly melted cheese.

6) It should have mayo – mayonnaise to be formal. Mayo protects the bun from getting soggy and retains flavors. It may be the reason I like Whoppers (not discussed among this group) because of the ketchup to mayo proportions.

7) The meat to fat ratio in a burger should be 80 lean meat to 20% fat. Collectively this assortment of chefs has almost 100 years of kitchen experience, I will go with that.

8) Pickles. A hamburger should have pickles. I would add, they should be good and more than two but no greater than four, but you can decide your own number.

There are a few more finer points we could have considered like should there be sesame seeds on buns or not. We did not all agree on the need or lack thereof for onion. All in all, I would declare our mission a success.

In this instance, I would add a ninth truth.

9) A good burger is better enjoyed with great friends.

The year 2018 did not deal the best set of cards to the Gourmand household and as much as I tried to reshuffle them, we just never got a better hand. The biggest loss for 2018 was a lack of quality social time with friends and family. It was good to start 2019 with a legitimate good outing with great people tackling the very real challenge of making people eat too many burgers.

Posted in culinary knowledge, culinary misadventure, hamburgers | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Lost & Forgotten Restaurants Podcast with This Week News

Posted by cmh gourmand on September 7, 2018

I was on a podcast with This Week News where we discussed lost and forgotten restaurants of Columbus.

Of course, I led off with The Galaxy Cafe

You can listen to the Podcast -> HERE (part 1 at least).

Which leads to some questions for you enlightened or mournful readers.


What Columbus Restaurants do you miss?

What Columbus Restaurants are you afraid of losing / would rock your world if they closed?

What is the Columbus Restaurant scene missing or what do you think could do well with an encore performance (a resurrected restaurant)?

Posted in CLOSED, Columbus, culinary knowledge | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

The Late Night Slice Pizza Box

Posted by cmh gourmand on May 29, 2018

Let me introduce you to the Late Night Slice pizza box, at least the current version (#4). The economics of pizza boxes are more challenging than you think. If you want something fancy, with art work and all, like the Late Night Slice box, but you also want to stay in business, you need to buy by the semi load to make the price point affordable.

Late Night Slice started with a “cover” on each box by year. But the dynamics of pizza box ordering make ordering tricky because one does not want to under or over order if you are linked to a year. Due to this, the 2016 boxes premiered late in said year. Then I waited, and waited and waited for 2017 to appear but I keep seeing vintage 2016’s each month. I then wondered if the 2017 box would be skipped or premiere in December until I saw the box showcased at the beginning of this post. This box caused a bit of bewilderment because I wondered how I missed #1, #2 and #3. However, the number of the boxes does make sense when you consider the previous changes in cover art that were to be by year not by version. All of the art is created by local artist Pat Moore. Pat has a long history of supporting local business and hanging out with the Late Night Slice gang so this local collaboration makes sense.

Late Night Slice box

Some features carry over from box to box no matter what the version is. You can always count for two of the sides to spell out the mantra that has allowed Late Night Slice to grow into an empire: PAY, EAT, LEAVE. The bottom of the box also has artwork on it and is always changed when the front cover is updated. The “mascot” you see on both is named Mr. Pizza Face. You may be glad or disturbed to know there is a life sized costume version of him complete with leg hair. Classy.

Late Night Slice Pizza Face

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

Posted by cmh gourmand on January 2, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by cmh gourmand on November 20, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Judging (Cookies & Pastries) at the Ohio State Fair

    Posted by cmh gourmand on July 31, 2017

    I’ve written about food judging more than a few times. Reviewing my archives, I think this ->right here is my best post on the subject. It covers a lot of my philosophy on the matter, but as both an art and a science there is plenty of room to grow and expand my knowledge base as well as question my own standards on how to evaluate a food item.

    This year at the Ohio State Fair, I judged a new category (for me) Cookies and Pastries (that would be 3104 for those on the circuit this year). This was a doozy! There were 135 entries in 14 subsections. Each subsection had a 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winner and of all of the categories, one had to be selected for Best of Show. My understanding is this food competition gets the most entries of any contest every year and because of that, not many judges do a repeat visit to these tables the following year due to PTSD – Post Traumatic Sugar Decompensation. The sheer volume of sugar based treats to eat was initially exciting but a few sugary bites in, I found the concept of finishing overwhelming. I was fortunate this year, apparently bad weather the weekend before the contest discouraged a large number of entries from actually delivering their cookies to the show. In some categories, I would see the entries listed as 22 total but ONLY 15 presented for judging. Had every cookie made it for the competition I do not think I would be a live to write about this. But still 135 is a daunting, if less than a typical number. To make this viable for all of us, we agreed to break into two teams of two with each team evaluating one half of the cookies / categories and then sampling all of the 1st place finishers and a few honorable mentions in every category before picking the best of show. So in the end, I sampled about 80 cookies. A typical judging gig lasts about 1 hour. A professional BBQ competition with prizes of $10,000 or more typically lasts 3 to 4 hours with breaks in between samples. For this contest, it took over 4 1/2 hours to sample and evaluate my assigned cookies.

    We had some pluses going into the session that I was happy with. Each team was assigned a scribe whose job it was to write down on positive feedback for each cookie as well as our suggestions for improvement. This, I am sure, is a giant staffing and otherwise, pain in the ass for the fair but I salute the organizers for doing so. For many of the people who enter the culinary arts competitions at the Ohio State Fair, this is a big deal. It is a matter of pride and accomplishment. Sometimes it is rewarded with a ribbon and many times it is not. Often there is no opportunity to figure out what you might have done better so you can win the next year. I know in one contest I judged years ago, a woman in the crowd watch my every chew and at the end, when she did not win, she grilled me like a perp in a Law & Order episode. I was happy to provide feedback but not ready for the intensity of competition for what is in many cases a ribbon not a life changing cash award. By entering the competition, I feel strongly that entrants deserve the opportunity for feedback considering the hours a contestant spends learning their craft, considering a recipe and delivering it for evaluation to the fair.

    I was very fortunate to be teamed up with Joe. Joe has judged at the fair many times but more importantly, he has competed in national baking competitions, so I found him a great resource as I sometimes struggled with diagnosing off flavors in some baked goods. The three criteria we had to evaluate for each cookie were: Appearance, Texture and Flavor. The basics of each of those three criteria were explained on our sheet but not elaborated on. We then decided to give each a point value. We both agreed that flavor was the most important aspect of any cookie so we would give that a 50 point range and the other two categories a 25 point range each. To help calibrate each other, we sampled the first three cookies, then reviewed our point scores to get a sense of our judging styles as well as talk through how we determined appearance, texture and flavor for each. This was a good learning experience for both of us and helped us avoid having too many cookies in the center of our respective score bell curves. We found we were generally within 5 points of each other on Flavor scores and 3 for Appearance and Texture. That made it easy for us to talk through later categories when we had a clean winner but a not always a clear second or third place finisher. And so it began.

    At the end, I was not sure I could take another bite (and we were not taking giant pieces of each to sample). One would not think judging cookies could be so exhausting but it was on this day. Physically, it was a lot of sugar and carbs. Mentally, I was really trying to give helpful feedback to the contestants. You can seen not our best of show winner as well as our 1st Place Ribbon entry in the bar cookie category. Oddly, this was the third cookie I tried out of all of them and it was a slam dunk beginning and at the end when I tried it again. Our other team agreed, having tried the same amount of cookies we did. The Dulce de Leche Bar really stood out from a very competitive group of winners and earned the win. I could have brought one of these home with me and plate or two of anything I wanted from table after table of cookies (and candies across the aisle) but I wanted to have nothing to do with sugar at that point. I just wanted to drink a swimming pool full of water and maybe rock back and forth in a corner for a few hours while the withdraw tremors burned the sugar out of my veins.

    Here are some general tips I have for you, if / when you enter the cookies category at the Ohio State Fair.

    1) Read all of the instructions and follow them (we found several that did not or were clearly in the wrong category of cookie type).

    2) Make eating your cookie easy for the judges. Secures your recipe and entry sheet to the outside or your ziplock bag or make it so it is easy to do so without digging in to your cookies inside.

    3) Taste your cookies before you plate them. I had at least four entries that were horrible. In three cases it was pretty clear they either did not mix their ingredients completely or used the wrong/poor ingredient (baking soda when they wanted powder, stale nuts, old chocolate chips, etc).

    4) Consider what your cookies will look and taste like after experiencing the heat of a hot summer day at the Ohio State Fair.

    5) Don’t enter a chocolate chip cookie in the drop cookie category.

    6) Simple is better. I tried a death by chocolate cookie, that literally tasted like death. The baker modified the recipe so much by adding extra “fancy” ingredients to make the recipe sound much better than the end product tasted. There were so many types of very different chocolates competing against each other in the batter that no chocolate flavor remained after the battle to the death in the oven.

    7) If you want a good chance of winning, enter in a category that is not as popular. This year, there were not many Molasses cookies or Short Bread cookies in their respective subsets and a well executed version in either would have 3rd place at the least with no extra effort needed.

    8) Before you enter, have people you don’t like try your cookies so you get honest feedback if they are good or need more work. There was one cookie that was so bad, it was clear that no human tasted it before it went into a ziplock bag for the ride to the fair. If someone did taste it, it must have been like the scene in the Andy Griffith Show when Aunt Bea made horrible pickles and Barney and Andy were afraid to tell her, so she made more. Friends, and enemies of your enemies do not let someone make a bad cookie, whenever something like that happens an angel LOSES their wings. Cookies by their nature should be at least good, that is a given.

    9) In some categories, especially chocolate chip, think of what a quintessential version of that cookie should taste and look like. For instance, a chocolate chip cookie should be fairly uniform in size from one to another. It should not be small or extremely lumpy. Ideally, you should be able to see there are chips in it or on it or are part of the cookie in some way. Walnuts or other nuts are a risk, you might like them but nuts often add a wild card to flavor and may not be a favorite of judges. Intuitively, you want to stand out in the crowd, and in some categories that is good but not the All-American Chocolate Chip – conformity is good in an iconic category, just focus on it tasting good.

    I hope you enter the Fair in some contest sometime. It is a great experience. Or if you judge, take your job seriously. I have sometimes worked with judges that do not. Judges also need to remember that in the world of food, one person can not judge, they can only render a subjective opinion. It is only by defending or explaining that opinion to others that have done the same, can you truly judge and evaluate what you ate. The debate makes tasting as close to objective as possible.

    Posted in culinary knowledge, culinary misadventure, Food For Thought | Tagged: | 5 Comments »