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Archive for the ‘culinary misadventure’ Category

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.

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Posted in culinary knowledge, culinary misadventure | 2 Comments »

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 »

Yin Yue and the Lunch Bunch

Posted by cmh gourmand on November 24, 2018

Looking at the title, I expect some of you think I may be writing a review of a forgotten 1970’s movie or sitcom. Alas, while I am sure it would have been a great show, this is the story of a small under the radar American Chinese Restaurant with a large and loyal customer base. One of my missions this year has been to find a low-budget lunch spot. In this I have succeeded. That is good, most of my other missions have been dismal failures. I was first told about this place when I was given a name of Yin Yuey’s with a 17th Ave location. That did not pan out but it gave me enough information to sleuth that what the person meant to advocate was Yin Yue on East Hudson Street. I was surprised in my many adventures I had never noticed this Linden institution. The restaurant has been at the same location for at least forty years and the extended family that runs it may have a local restaurant tradition going back decades before that. Information on Yin Yue is a bit spotty from the owners, while their English is poor, my Mandarin is even worse as in non-existent. Long time customers are unsure of many of the facts themselves and after years of trying to determine the origins of the restaurant they have become content to just enjoy the food. We know the original owner created all of the paintings in the space and the current owners are either nieces, nephews by marriage, grandchildren or some distant connection to the founder. Nearly everything else is legend and lore, except for a guy named Gary. Gary has been dead for decades and no one I have spoken to recalls meeting him, however he warranted at least three menu specials in his honor that remain to this day (Gary Special, Gary Special Shrimp and Gary Special Beef). Let me digress to the food then I’ll tell you about the lunch bunch.

The typical Columbus Foodarazzi would quickly and decisively turn their noses up at Yin Yue. This is unequivocally Americanized Chinese food made by folks that have not yet been Americanized. Anyone that enjoyed Chinese food in 1970’s Columbus would find all of their Chinese comfort food classics here including Wor Sue Gai, Chow Mein and Chop Suey. The restaurant is small, with seating for under forty yet the menu features well over one hundred items including a few Pat Thai dishes.

Looking at Yelp and other reviews for guidance prior to my first exploratory mission, I tried frequently cited “sure things” such as Wonton soup, an egg roll and Wor Sue Gai. All items met my expectations and the bill was about $12.

On this first exploratory mission I was pleased with the short commute time from my house to the restaurant and then my son’s school, I had to hit all three destinations in under one hour or the world would literally end, I was able to run this route with minutes to spare. Other things that did not suck: a good portion size to value ratio, big squirt bottles of several sauces, a fast order to plate of food in front of me time and efficient staffing. I get one lunch out per week and I have a limited budget so it is important to not have a horrible lunch experience. During my first trip I was surprised to see so many cars in the lot and so many people all crowded together at one table. I overheard bits of their conversation and became intrigued by what seemed to be a very diverse and disparate band of brothers that were able to discuss a broad range of topics without coming to blows. I felt this group warranted some more anthropological research, so I decided at least one more trip to Yin Yue was in order to study this tribe.

On my next lunch at Yin Yue I ordered Egg Drop Soup, Crab Rangoon and Chicken Curry Chow Foon. I ordered the last dish mainly because I had never heard of such a thing and it sounded vaguely healthy. Chicken Curry Chow Foon consists of thick, dense and slightly chewy rice noodles, sliced chicken, mushrooms, water chestnuts, bok choy, celery and bean sprouts and of course a healthy dosage of curry powder. This was a good entrée and caught the eye of some diners next to me who decided that might break with tradition and try this dish next time. The soup and Crab Rangoon met my expectations as well.

I was now two for two for meals but this time an early arrival and some bad news for a member of the lunch bunch cut attendance down to two guests and I did not want to disturb the two members in residence since one was helping the other with a family crisis. I decided my questions about their confederation could wait for a better day. I was content with a bill totaling all of $12.36 for a big lunch.

On my third mission, I ordered Wonton Mein (what the heck is that I thought) and the Happy Family: chicken, shrimp and beef cooked with broccoli, carrots, snow peas, water chestnuts and baby corn in a brown sauce. I asked my server what the wonton mein was but the explanation provided was a bit vague. I understood the noodles part. When I ordered it she was shocked that I wanted the Happy Family too. The Wonton Mein is only $5 so I did not understand that it apparently is a full meal for most normal people. When it arrived this was more clear to me the instant it made contact with the table. When I clean plated all of my items my server gave a slight bow of respect.

I soon found out that Wonton Mein is a giant bowl of Wonton Soup with a brick sized block of Ramen rammed into it. Bazinga! The Happy Family did not disappoint either.

By the time I finally finished my meal(s) a large number of the lunch bunch arrived and thus I felt ready to pester them with questions. They were glad to divulge their group history and mores. The founder of the group starting coming to Yin Yun for lunch thirty-eight years ago. The most senior member present during my interrogation has been dining there for thirty-seven years. Most people in the group have been coming for at least a decade and there are a handful that have been assimilated over the last year. Many come in for lunch up to six days per week. Some just come a handful of times during the week. The size of the group varies from two to twenty-five depending on the day. The largest number come on Saturdays at 1 pm. Many are older but some are young. A few are retired but many work nearby. Topics of conversation range from but are not limited to: how the UPS delivery system works, how to better set your contacts in a smart phone, the mechanics of garage door spring repair without lethal injury and how to make the world a better place. I was invited to come anytime and it was made clear that all are welcome. In our present state of community affairs nationally and living in a highly polarized state of society it was pleasant to see that old school ad hoc communities can exist and sustain over time.

I made a few other observations. The art work is diverse and shows a shift in subject matter over time with the older art reflecting traditional Chinese themes and the newer art reflecting the character of the neighborhood.

There is a very modern clock, with the Yin Yue name on it which only tells time with electronic laser dots, it is both out of place and appropriate for the decor here. I like that Yin Yun is somewhat quiet. Although there is their is a constant but muffled chatter in the kitchen and sometimes guests there are no other sounds to disrupt my digestion. No Fox News. No music. There are two small TV’s mounted on the wall but there just show the feeds from the 6-8 security cameras inside and outside the restaurant. On a final note, there is a very clearly marked pick up spot in the front of the building.

If you are looking for value priced, fast and better than average American Chinese food and you would not mind some company and conversation, Yin Yue is a fine choice. One final note, while the Lunch Bunch does not have an official name, it is their understanding the kitchen staff refers to them as the Friends of the Long Table.

Yin Yue
1236 East Hudson St, Linden (just west of Cleveland Ave.)
Yin Yue website

Yin Yue's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posted in culinary misadventure, Gastronomic Stimulus, Vegetarian Friendly | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Awadh: An Addendum to Indian Buffet Battle & An Education in Pani Puri

Posted by cmh gourmand on November 14, 2018

What first brought me to Awadh was a pressing need to find an easy access public bathroom at Carriage Place Shopping Center because at I really had to pee. It being a Monday, Awadh was not open (that is changing soon) but the $8.99 Lunch Buffet sign put the restaurant high on my radar for a later, less pressing trip after I finished one of the lower level needs on Maslow’s pyramid. In the past, I spent a lot of time at the movie theater and restaurants of Carriage Place located near the Northeast corner of Bethel Road and Sawmill. Today, I mainly go to the area to donate blood, but, I had a new opportunity to drive the length of the Carriage Place Shopping Center (with a lot of focus) and see everything that has changed over the years – many of the restaurants have moved on and some new but familiar faces like Fitzy’s Diner have become part of the landscape.

I dropped into to Awadh the next day with pretty low expectations. The name of the space is a bit confusing. While the main signage says Awadh, there are numerous posters on the windows suggesting it may be called TGIXpress as well. One migh think it is a bar due to one large poster that is selling beer specials. The spot is small, seating 40 to 50 with some creativity and does feel “new” which is appropriate, it has only been open five months. I was greeted warmly by a very friendly hostess and I was followed in by two regular customers who were known by name and beverage preference upon arrival. I excused myself to the bathroom when I entered (this time in a less pressing manner than the day before) and by the time I returned, there was a plate with warm, fresh samosa waiting for me. The hostess mentioned this comes with the buffet and the the kitchen wants to make sure these are always as fresh and warm as possible for customers upon arrival.

Settling in, I spied ten entrée dishes available to sample as well as naan and Bhature (a puffier, slighty sweet bread), a bit of salad, chutneys, and two desserts offered at the buffet. The offerings during my visit were: Asian Style Noodles with cabbage and vegetables, Chili Potatoes, Cauliflower Potato Curry, Saag Paneer, Chicken Pea Curry (noted as Chole), Basmati Rice, Chicken Tika Masala, Chicken Biryani, Goat Curry and Tandoori Chicken.

Each dish was well labeled, looking appetizing and fresh. Entree were set up in smaller batches in the holding table so they could be rotated quickly. I found each of the dishes to be good. My favorite was the Chicken Biryani which featured whole chicken wings.

My memorable experience of this trip occurred when I made my last run to the buffet. The hostess had checked on me many times and seemed to enjoy my many questions about the business and food. She may have admired my dedication to research as I thoroughly tested out each dish. I had fallen off her radar for just a few moments which allowed the next faux pas to happen since I was unsupervised. The photo below shows how to not put together a Pani Puri. In my defense, oddly, this is not a dish I have had before, which is saying a lot since I am a long time fan of Indian cuisine.

The hostess noted my erroneous attempt and kindly walked over to me before I returned to my table. She quietly and discreetly asked me if I had Pani Puri before. I said no and looking at what I had in my dish and her look at it, I realized I had missed the mark by a mile. She then politely showed me how to construct it properly – breaking the delicate little ball of hollow, fried puri and filling it and then surrounding it with everything I had not topped it with. I was a good learning moment for me and a good opportunity for me to help her with finding the right English words to use as she struggled to walk me through some of the steps of purveying puri to my plate. I like an opportunity to learn during my meal and I was very impressed with how the hostess graciously guided me down the right path.

Jumping back to the buffet battle series from 2016, the Indian Edition, following the buffet battle format here are my initial ratings of Awadh as I make an addendum.

Value 5
Quality 4
Quantity 4.25
Highlight: friendly and attentive service and a clear desire to continue to improve the business and grow new customers
Kid Friendly Quotient 4 (some booths are kid friendly and CMH Griffin and I can pop in easily since his school is just around the corner).

Other bits of knowledge you may find helpful. Awadh is a region in Northern / North Central India. Pani puri is a common street snack in several regions on Nepal and India. It is presented as a round, hollow puri, fried crisp and filled with a mixture of flavored water, tamarind chutney, chili, chaat masala, potato, onion or chickpeas. My bill came to $9.66 with tax (my beverage was water). It was a good value for both the experience and the quality of food offered.


TGIXpress Bistro & Bar – Awadh India Restaurant
awadhindiarestaurant.com

Posted in Buffet Battle, culinary misadventure, restaurants | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The White Castle Impossible Burger: A CMH Gourmand / 614ortyNiner Joint

Posted by cmh gourmand on September 30, 2018

I received a text from a colleague suggesting I try the Impossible Burger at White Castle. Based on the location of this venture, I decided it was a great opportunity for another joint evaluation with the esteemed 614ortyNiner.

I actually thought the location of this Impossible Burger to be a bit….improbable. A White Castle at SR 161 (Dublin-Granville Road) and Karl Road? This is an area that has not been known for food innovation since the early 1990s. However, I did confirm the venue via an Impossible Burger locator and found that the Impossible was not only probable, but true, it was indeed at this White Castle as one of the first sites in the city.

What makes a burger impossible? It is a vegetarian burger which has been challenging all types of food businesses to create a tasty sandwich using their creation as a base. Their philosophy, if you want to make a good burger without meat, it is possible to get people to eat more of them and this consume less cows and such.

The mere mention of an Impossible Burger and White Castle in the same sentence is likely to make a large percentage of the population snicker to the point of derision. However the two Venn diagrams of non believers are unlikely to have much overlap. On one side we have the Foodies and the general White Castle haters who see no value in fast food in general and “sliders” in particular. To that Venn diagram I say, dig a little deeper and you might find something that is not worthy of ridicule. I have editorialized in the past about my respect for White Castle as an innovator in food technology, work force development and etc. While I do not go to White Castle often, I have been a sucker for their breakfast sandwich for many years and typically I am drawn to any new menu item the company offers like a sailor to shipwreck by sirens.

As for the other Venn diagram in this online soliloquy, those that snicker at attempts to offer vegetarian alternatives to our military/industrial/oil/meat-focused complex economy I say, look to the future. The things that give use cheap meat are getting more expensive: gas, water, land, cheap feed, agribusiness, etc. Add to that, there is a lot to question about what is going into the meat we eat. It has been a decade and about seventy pounds since I was a six day a week vegetarian but I respect a good vegetable based burger and will support any effort to make such palatable to the masses. We need it. Me more than most.

Fast food is the perfect environment to try out a good vegetable based burger and of course Columbus with our long-standing reputation as the premiere food test market is the place to do so. This is not the first time White Castle has come on board with a meatless burger (some way they have been doing so since 1921). They debuted their veggie burger years ago and I was there to try it. White Castle still serves a veggie burger and it is still 99 cents – that it has persisted is a win.

In the case of the Impossible Burger, the approach appears to be more high-end than the typical slider. Both 614ortyNiner and I approached this taste test with great seriousness. Also, without planning to do so, we both used the same approach in our ordering. We each got a “standard” slider, a veggie burger, an Impossible Burger/Slider plain and an Impossible Burger with cheese (the default cheese for these is a smoked cheddar). We both wanted to start with a baseline and work our way up so as to fairly compare the Impossible Burger to what else is in the White Castle Universe. The FortyNiner shared he had limited experience with White Castle since he grew up and lived a large part of his life on the Bay Area. So on this trip not only did he try an Impossible Burger he also tried a regular, nothing added, run of the mill, plan White Castle Slider (I had mine with jalapeno cheese). We progressed in our burger consumption and made similar observations. The prep time for the Impossible Burger is about two times longer than the other items. The burger patty is about 2.5 times thicker than a standard slider. While we know it is a vegetable based burger, it does not really look like one (unlike the White Castle Veggie Burger which has visible vegetable parts in the patty). We do not know what vegetables are in this burger but we both thought it has a slight aroma of mushrooms as well as a slight hint of mushroom in the flavor profile. The patty was textured somewhat like a hamburger but was light and fluffy. It was edible, neither horrible or delicious. The Impossible Burger with cheese was significantly better than the plain Impossible burger. We both thought this burger would benefit from more add on’s, such as pickles. It was at the moment we both agreed to this pickle upgrade that we noticed the marketing poster shows pickles with this burger….so we say, make sure you get yours. We also noticed that the onions served with the Impossible Burger were very different that the typical finally diced and fried slider onions. These were bigger, wider and looked and tasted like they came out of a microwave. To make the product cycle lifespan of the Impossible Burger – Slider edition longer, this product would benefit by having the addition of the standard White Castle heap of onions.

Does this Impossible Burger actually accomplish the impossible of being a great burger? No! However, it is a passable product if you add on the right add on’s. In particular, I have always felt that any White Castle slider was a case of the whole being much greater that the sum of the parts so adding more parts to your Impossible Burger is the right call. I do, think this burger is destined to fail. The origins of fast food as well as the reality of fast food today is based on two elements – food served quickly at a low price. I’d also suggest dumping the smoked cheddar cheese, you can’t taste the difference and a standard slice of American or Jalapeno cheese will help them cut down the price. For the Impossible Burger to succeed it will need to reduce the price and the cook time by one half so it can be assimilated by the masses. Thanks for the assist 614ortyNiner.

Posted in culinary misadventure, Food For Thought, Vegetarian Friendly | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

From the Archives for Fathers Day: Apple Cake Podcast

Posted by cmh gourmand on June 17, 2018

At Copan Mayan Ruins in Honduras 2009

Today marks my second year that I am the Father on Father’s Day. I never figured that is was going to be an easy assignment but I must say the last five months in the role have been a marathon. It is soul wrenching when your child has a challenge that you might not be able to help him with or know if what you are doing is helping or not.

However, I’m so happy for all of the time I get to spend with CMH Griffin. Spending time with him it makes Fathers Day a little easier to bear since my dad died on Father’s Day.

I have shared some of my dynamic with my father before: Apple Cake Eulogy and Senor Ellison esta aqui.

Recently, I found this audio episode from my short lived podcast, (the original) Columbus Foodcast. The sound quality is very good (although I must admit I started crying when I was testing out the audio file to make sure it was good quality). The amusing part for me and for anyone listening that may have known my Dad aka “Crash”, is how hard he is trying to be “good”. Throughout this recording I can hear him trying to restrain his language and more typical demeanor. You also get some sense of his “special” relationship with Tommy, from Tommy’s Diner in Fton.

This very special, “lost” episode of Columbus Foodcast lasts about 17 minutes.

Listen -> Here

Posted in culinary misadventure | Leave a Comment »

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

Posted by cmh gourmand on November 12, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • For more information on the area, visit AthensOhio.

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

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

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

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

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

    Posted by cmh gourmand on September 7, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    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 »

    Burger King’s 5 for $4 vs. Wendy’s 4 for $4

    Posted by cmh gourmand on April 4, 2016

    IMG_4331

    Two back to back fast food posts? Speculation may arise that I have bottomed out. I hope not, both are in the spirit of investigative food journalism. I’ve noticed Wendy’s and Burger King plugging $4 meals for months and both are near my headquarters so I decided to pick up both within minutes of each other to do some side by side analysis. Thanks to those hard fact driven folks at Fox News, I seem to have stumbled onto a -> fast food war with a little smack talk on the side. The King decreed “5 for $4, because 5 is better than 4”. But is that really the case? I decided to challenge the two head on using qualitative and quantitative research. This post was spur of the moment but perhaps fated since it was conducted on April (Four), 4th.

    Let us open the sacks and see what we find.

    The Burger King deal includes: a bacon cheeseburger, crispy chicken nuggets (4), small fries, small drink and a chocolate chip cookie

    The Wendy’s deal includes: the choice of Junior Bacon Cheeseburger or Crispy Chicken Sandwich, a small beverage, value natural cut fries and 4 piece chicken nuggets.

    First let’s look at the actual retail price. At Burger King, the price is $4.06 whereas at Wendy’s the total comes to $4.08. Score one for the King. (The differences seems to be how each empire calculates Ohio sales tax for the beverage that comes with the deal. What an odd anomaly).

    Second we compare beverages. Both are the same size so that is a draw.

    IMG_4333

    For the third area of analysis, I opted to go head to head with the bacon cheese burgers. Wendy’s version offers a slice of tomato and a large piece of lettuce whereas Burger King piles on the pickles. Both add two strips of bacon and a slice of American cheese. The hamburger paddies are about the same size. The BK burger tasted better than it’s counterpart from Wendy’s and the bacon flavor was stronger. (Side note: while Wendy’s did not have a pickle on this burger, they typically do feature them on value items, Burger King uses better pickles and my BK test subject had 5 – that did not influence my choice but it is noteworthy). Two points for the King.

    IMG_4334

    Moving along to the third shared menu item and our fourth comparison point: chicken nuggets which generally are among the most terrifying of fast food items in my opinion. Wendy’s chicken nuggets were vastly superior to their royal cousins. The Wendy’s offering were thicker, fluffier and had some taste of chicken to them. The Burger King Nuggets were….crunchy. Score one for the girl in pin stripes.

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    Our next head to head in the competition is fries. My serving from Burger King was almost twice as much as Wendy’s. Wendy’s fries had better potato flavor. Burger King’s fries had better texture and crispness. I’m giving a slight edge to the King for this one more so due to quantity than quality. The King: 3, The Kid: 1.

    Burger King offers a chocolate chip cookie as their fifth item, Wendy’s does not, so it is now 4 to 1 in favor of the King.

    Looking at some subjective items. At the Wendy’s I visited Coca-Cola Free style is offered so I had more beverage choices and I had the option of either a burger or chicken sandwich. Both companies offer a choice of dipping sauces with the nuggets and neither include ketchup unless you ask for it. Wendy’s slightly greater variety has merit but not enough to earn a point so the score remains unchanged.

    Let’s look, for the sake of value at some nutritional facts about the meals. The Burger King 5 for $4 has (not including the beverage and cookie): 820 calories, 26 grams of protein, 39 grams of fat. Wendy’s combo (just the burger, nuggets and fries): 790 calories, 32 grams of protein and 45 grams of fat. I’d like to see how the difference would be if the servings of fries were really the same but on paper a few more calories and a little less fat is probably marginally better for health and if you are living on the cheap – that’s more fuel to sustain a person. We will call nutrition a draw but objectively, both fail. Adding in a non diet beverage for both you go well over 1000 calories and toss in the cookie close to 1200. If you hit hard times and only have $4 to eat – the BK deal may be a sustainer.

    I thought this contest would have been a closer call. Since I go to Wendy’s more than Burger King (and I go to both very rarely) I thought Wendy’s was going to do a better job on the the three core items. The King is the King of value meals here. Note: I’ve had my share of fast food chicken nuggets for the rest of this decade (4.5 of the 8 were consumed by me to taste them with and without the dipping sauces).

    This study was supervised by CMH Griffin (who had yogurt). My research assistant CMH Tobias was quite happy to dispose of the leftovers.

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    If there is another head to head study I should have my research team investigate, let me know.

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