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Archive for the ‘culinary knowledge’ Category

Dante’s Pizza Serving Clintonville Since 1973

Posted by cmh gourmand on October 1, 2019

Joe Apollonio immigrated to Columbus from the Abruzzo region of Italy at age 14. He spoke little English and started working and going to school as soon as he arrived after settling in with relatives in Grandview. His first job was as a dishwasher at Romeo’s Pizzeria (5th and North Star) which was the first pizzeria in Columbus. This was also his first exposure to pepperoni, a very American invention, but he grew to like it over time. Joe worked with Romeo Sirij, one of the founders. Romeo had grown up on the east coast and brought what he had learned about pizzerias when he moved to Columbus as young man. A friend of Joe’s from school, Paul Panzera, told him about an opening at Leonardo’s Pizza so he started working there (the original location at West 1st in Grandview) and moved up the ranks. As Joe’s English language skills improved and as Leonardo’s continued to grow into the largest independent pizza chain in Columbus he was asked to be a manager at the Worthington Leonardo’s and then the Kenny Road location. Joe could not have asked for a better foundation and apprenticeship in Columbus style pizza.

As he was starting a new family he needed more income and wanted more control over his work hours so by pooling funds from his brother, sister and other family members he opened Dante’s Pizza in March of 1973. The location had been home to several restaurants over the prior years. The previous business had some struggles and had lost favor with the community so Joe knew he would need a different name and would need to very quickly establish the quality of his menu. He named the restaurant after his brother, Dante. At the start, most of the labor was via family members including his niece Tizianna who now owns Enrico’s Pizza. Many of the employees feel like family with at least two, Shirley and Pat, there for over thirty years.

Little has changed since Dante’s opened in 1973. Transactions are still cash and check only. The decor and layout are functional. Pick up customers can watch their pizza being assembled and cooked through the glass countertop. Dine in guests have about a dozen four top tables to choose from and it is not uncommon for all or most of them to get pushed together to serve a soccer team or large family. The pizza dough is made fresh daily. The pizza and spaghetti sauces are made in house as well as the signature Italian dressing and many other items. The sausage is made locally using a recipe Joe has used for decades and it remains a favorite topping for long time customers. After two heart attacks and an open heart surgery Joe is still coming in early to prep the business for the day, start sauces, knead dough and deal with deliveries but now he is typically gone before the first customers come through the door.

As is the case for most “old school” pizza shop owners Joe was a regular at The American Italian Golf Club at the (closed) Riviera Country Club and often played with the Gatto’s who own a nearby pizzeria. Joe has enjoyed seeing several generations of Clintonville families returning year after year and watching their kids become adult customers who bring their own children in. Joe foresees no changes at Dante’s. It will remain a cash business. Additional traffic from delivery services is too complicated to consider for this small pizzeria tucked in a corner spot within a busy shopping plaza. Dante’s will remain a time capsule of the 1970’s and that is the way everyone likes it.

Most important for my slice of history, Dante’s was the source for the very first slice (square that is) of pizza I consumed as a young four year old in Clintonville. I vividly recall eating this very tentatively sitting on the landing that divided the staircase from the first floor to the second floor. I do not know why I choose this for my dining spot. I do recall being unsure, almost wary of pizza…..that did not last long. As I grew up, Dante’s pizza was a frequent feature on Friday nights in our household and in fourth grade, at the newly created Clintonville Academy (the original location which is Wildflower Cafe today, we would have Dante’s Pizza for lunch in a shared art space, multi-purpose room, play area either once per week or once per month (my memory is hazy with the years). It was here I first learned the utility of sharing square slices and the importance of trying to avoid the smaller corner pieces for my pizza allotment among the group. It is interesting how one food can imprint in a person’s mind in such a strong manner but such is the case with pizza.

Dante’s Pizza
3586 Indianola Ave.
Clintonville
614-268-5090
(Bring cash!)

Posted in Columbus style pizza, culinary knowledge, pizza, restaurants | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Another Elite Eating Hack: Rockmill Tavern Beet Bahn Mi

Posted by cmh gourmand on September 25, 2019

I did not expect another elite eating hack in 2019. Nor did I expect said hack to present itself at Rockmill Tavern but when serendipity strikes, it should not be dismissed. I would like to say I could take credit for this culinary advancement but, like the other elite hack, this higher plane of consumption was created by another. I can say, I was present for the inspiration and I had the second ever sandwich created with this configuration.

Rockmill Tavern does a fine job with meaty dishes and they have always offered vegetables that your momma would not need to bribe you to eat but over the last year, the kitchen has been very focused on creating destination level dishes which showcase vegetables. Hence, the a new lunch menu addition, the Beet Bahn Mi.

You may be familiar with the famous Vietnamese Bahn Mi Sandwich – the best version I have encountered in Central Ohio is at Mi Li Cafe. Rockmill Tavern took that inspiration and put their own spin on it for their weekday lunch menu. They ditched the meat and replaced it with braised golden beets then add Vietnamese pickles and garlic miso aioli layered between two halves of a wonderful Maitja Breads Ciabatta Hoagie Roll. No one needs to beat me to get me to eat this Beet Mi, it is an excellent sandwich as presented. However, it just so happens that Rockmill Tavern makes an exceptional pork belly and if the place is not too crowded and you ask nicely they will add pork belly to this sandwich. The end result is AMAZING. Now you have another Elite Eating Hack for Rockmill Tavern. Thank you Chris for this gift to humanity. Thank you to Rockmill Tavern for allowing us to eat this.

My other inside tip – always order the pasta special, you will never be disappointed but do make sure you order bread to go with it.

Where to go:
Rockmill Tavern
503 South Front Street
Brewery District, Lunch Time

Posted in culinary knowledge, sandwiches | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

The Best Basement Brewing Museum I have ever seen…..

Posted by cmh gourmand on September 8, 2019

Due to a curious chain of events (certainly not the first time for me), I found myself in a brewing museum in a basement. Well, maybe not a true museum but an incredible curated collection of artifacts accumulated by Ed Heller in forty odd years of brewing in Columbus and Central Ohio, mainly at August Wagner Breweries. How does one find himself in such a place? In my case by being a “connectrovert” – finding ways to connect people and opportunities as well as asking the right question at the right time in the right way. The story starts with me in my role as Vice President (and non-resident historian) of the Brewery District Merchants Association. A member had a question about a giant Brewers Alley sign that was in his building. An individual was interested in making a good home for this sign and after asking a few questions to “vet” that it would be a good forever home for a historic sign, agreements were made to transfer custody. In the process of this back and forth, I found out that the mother of the person asking for this sign was the daughter of Ed Heller who was a local brewmaster and she had “a few things” in her basement including a Brewers Year Book from 1950. Without trying to hide my excitement I asked if I could invite myself to see this treasure trove of Breweriana and the deal was done. Well, maybe I put a lot of icing on the non cake that is me, by asking if I could also invite my friend and colleague Curt Schieber the author of “Columbus Beer: Recent Brewing & Deep Roots“.

Flash forward to this morning when Curt and I, two perfect strangers to these very kind people, found ourselves in a nicely finished north side basement looking at relics of the August Wagner Breweries (and other places) and hearing about the long career of Ed Heller. He lived an incredible life. As the oldest of nine children, Ed had to leave school in the 8th grade to find work. Eventually, through a lot of hard work, perseverance and saving a lot of money for the time, he found his way to New York city to earn a prestigious Brewmasters certificate. Being a brewer on the South Side of Columbus would have made him one of the most respected citizens of his era. He lived into his 90’s surviving throat cancer in his late 40’s and being unable to speak and then another cancer, heart attack and more later in life. For many years his family lived in one of the brewers houses on Front Street which in itself created so many memories including going to the brewery on Saturdays so that the brewers could make snowballs out of the melting ice in the brewery for children to play with.

The assortment of photos, signs, glasses, bottles and more in this basement space told more than just the story of a brewer, it tells the story of a important part of life in Columbus during his career. Our hosts Angie and Greg shared so many stories with Curt and I that I lost count. More importantly the four of us connected due to a passion for celebrating and preserving history. Much of what we saw were items that easily could have been discarded or separated over the years but keeping all of this together created a wonderful longitudinal story.

This was truly a treasure trove. Curt, spent three years working on his book but had never seen the majority of what we were looking at and hearing about today so he was thrilled with having access to this hidden history. One thing we collectively lamented on is that most families loose so much of their history and connection to the past by not having someone with an interest to pass it on to the next generation. Increasingly there is no one in the present that wants take on the role of family historian and archivist. Today Curt and I got lucky. I am sharing a few of the many photos I took below.

Posted in beer, culinary knowledge, culinary misadventure | 2 Comments »

Ding Ho, Wor Sue Gai: Columbus Institution & Midwestern Foodway

Posted by cmh gourmand on August 26, 2019

Many moons ago, I came across this interesting article about the origination of Wor Sue Gai / War Su Gai in Columbus. The claim seems credible with a strong probability that the dish started at Far East Restaurant in Bexley sometime in the 1920’s. Two of our oldest Chinese restaurants in town – Wings (1970) and Ding Ho (1956) have connections to that restaurant. The dish is simple – wok fried chicken topped with chopped almonds or peanuts depending on the restaurant and era, covered with gravy and served on a bed of lettuce. My memories of Columbus Chinese food of the 20th century recall this dish vividly anywhere we dined. Other locales call this Almond Boneless Chicken as described in an article on Eater. There are differences in how this dish is presented, especially in how the gravy is prepared throughout Columbus and elsewhere but the core of the dish remains the same. As I was reading through this research I realized I have never dined at Ding Ho and I figured I should fix that.

Ding Ho has a long history in the capital city, dating back to 1956. It has been in several locations on the west side. It has been at it’s current location on Phillpi Road since 2008 in what looks to have been a former fast casual restaurant space. The original Ding Ho (which roughly translates to -> the best) started in a converted gas station. During its prime it stayed open late, served the movers and shakers of Columbus such as Mayor Sensenbrenner and offered steaks, chops, sandwiches and more.

Today, Ding Ho might be an easy place for people to dismiss either for the location or for having a traditional, Americanized Chinese menu. For those that have not visited, it is well worth the trip. Even though it is in a newer building, Ding Ho has an old school feel about the space. It is well maintained with plenty of room for dining and even a patio area. Service was friendly and very fast. On my visit I noticed it was well populated with many regulars that the staff knew by name.

Of course I ordered the Wor Sue Gai. I ordered an egg roll. I also opted for the optional bread service – mainly because I was intrigued by this offering. My server just asked if I would like bread…so of course I said yes. I was promptly given a plate with two slices of bread on it and small vat of butter. I was told this has been a tradition since the 1950’s since the menu once included a wide variety of American and Chinese-America comfort foods. Over time, guests would see bread being served with a steak or chops and ask if they could have it with their Chop Suey or Wor Sue Gai, so bread remains an option to this day. My egg roll was good. I really enjoyed the house made sauces readily available at the table to ladle on my egg roll. Both sauces were fresh and complimented the egg roll well.

The Wor Sue Gai was served within a matter of minutes. It was piping hot and had the requisite chicken, gravy, rice, lettuce, crumbled peanuts and in my case scallions/green onions which are optional. All white meat is also optional for this dish. It was exactly what I expected. It might not be an exciting dish for a professional foodie but I felt this was a fine rendition of this traditional dish.

While my expectations were not exceedingly high for this visit or dish, all of my expectations were exceeded. The most important part of the meal was the friendly attitude of the staff and the pride they have for continuing a third and fourth generation small business. That alone justifies a trip to explore this historic dish.

Ding Ho Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posted in culinary knowledge, restaurants | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

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 it does accurately show the bun to chicken ratio and basic sandwich configuration and proportions. 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.

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 »