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Archive for the ‘Food For Thought’ Category

(Off Topic) Father’s Day “Crash” Memorial: Senor Ellison Esta Aqui

Posted by cmh gourmand on June 18, 2017

We are going off the topic of food (although there is an interesting note about the Wendy’s in San Pedro Sula, Honduras and I did trick my dad into eating grilled bull balls). My Father died five Father’s Days ago so the statute of limitations regarding some of this story is now up. I will spend part of my day today going to a bar I despise, sitting at my Dad’s name plated stool, drinking a bad beer, probably trying to pick a fight with someone (in his honor) and buying a lottery ticket before I leave. This story is a preamble to what eventually led to his death: neglect by his adopted family in Honduras. I wrote this in 2003 (and only updated few words as I post this). I made four more trips to Honduras prior to my dads death in 2012. The second trip was pretty comical, it involved a cross-country trip to the Mayan Ruins of Copan, my dad almost being arrested for peeing in the public square there, several attempted shotgun marriages of this writer to various Honduran cousins, and etc. Subsequent trips were less entertaining and involved me paying off various bribes, dealing with my dad being an illegal immigrant, my step brother nearly getting arrested by the marines at the US Embassy and thus me subsequently pushing him against a wall and threatening to beat the shit out of him and anyone else he wanted to bring to the table. There were many other less entertaining events and adventures. His emigration to Honduras started out mostly well before it turned into a horrible shitstorm and this is the story of how it began.


Senor Ellison Esta Aqui

Or

Learning to Do Nothing:
A curious reflection on the journey of a man, with his father to the Central American country of Honduras; specifically the southern region and the city of Choluteca

Honduras

There comes a time in a man’s life when the son becomes the father and watches by as his “son” does some pretty unusual things.
-Jim Ellison, 2003

I have been around the world a couple times and back again, and hope to keep doing so. The more I travel, the longer my list of places to see gets. However, Honduras never really made my list. In January of 1999, my father went to Honduras for the first time with a group from the watering hole he frequents known as El Dorado. Prior to 1999, EL Dorado, burrito and maybe taco, were the only words of Spanish my father knew, although I suspect he figured they really originated from Texas. The “gentlemen” from El Dorado are a rough and tumble bunch but know the area well from many hunting trips there – primarily for doves in theory but in practice it was to “hunt” for two-legged animals as well. My dad fit in well with this crew, so much that they named him “Crash.”

Dad’s trips to Honduras became much more frequent – climaxing in the period January 2002 to January 2003 when he sojourned there 5 times, usually calling me at the last-minute to find a good flight for him – so I knew how much this was costing him. I also knew this was money he did not have. This piqued my interest. My intuition and some snickering I would occasionally hear from the El Dorado boys indicated something was going on. However, Ellisons don’t talk about much of anything except for how to avoid other Ellisons. While having dinner one night in February of 2003 I noticed something odd about my father – well, something new – a wedding band and quite stylish at that – very much not something he would pick out. I asked him point-blank if he went and got himself married, he nodded. In Honduras? “Yep.” Well, with that the deal was done, Honduras moved from number 117 on my list to number 1, bumping Iceland back several months. The Ellison boys were off to Honduras. I booked the trip. I was not getting any usable information from my dad so I consulted other sources of knowledge. The El Dorado boys were drunk at the time I interrogated them so I could not get any authoritative information other than if I “wanted to get into trouble or out of it” a gentleman named Omar was the person to speak with down there – however his last name and phone number were not available. Two books from 1983, a travel guide from 1999, and some Web sites gave me enough information about Choluteca to determine it is the (my analysis) “West Virginia of Central America”. It was also the “murder capital of the world”, oh boy! My dad spent his first 18 years in West Virginia and I reckon I have enough of the state in the recessive cells of my DNA to let me adapt in my own way.

In Houston, our flight was delayed for an hour due to reports of visibility problems in Central America and in particular Tegucigalpa. It seems this is the time of year that everyone in Central America burns their sugar cane fields so with current weather conditions, the smoke was not going anywhere except for Tegucigalpa. This was not a good thing. Flying into “Tecuz” is one of the finest experiences in modern air travel. The airport runway is hacked out of the stone at the top of one mountain surrounded by several others. The brakes of the plane go full tilt on impact and typically there are only a few inches of runway to spare at the end. The road has to be shut down at take off so the taxi’s, bicycles, and street vendors are not blown to El Salvador by roaring jet engines at take-off. It is always in the list of top 5 most dangerous airports in the world. I looked forward to that quite a bit. We departed Houston for a 2 hour, forty minute flight. Upon approach we were informed, belatedly, that we were going to circle to see if visibility would improve. And hour and one half later the pilot let us know that it was time to give up – he could not land and we were heading to San Pedro Sula in Northern Honduras. And anyway – we were almost out of gas.

In San Pedro Sula we took care of customs, relieved ourselves, and eventually sauntered onto a bus to take us to our destination. There were also some self-employed gentlemen with large sums of US Dollars and Honduran Limperia’s acting as roving ATM’s to meet our monetary needs. After everyone was rounded up, bottles of water, miscellaneous Wendy’s sandwiches, and various Biggie size drinks were loaded unto the bus to pacify our gringo mouths while the airline tried to figure out how to pack all of the medical equipment one of the medical missionary groups had brought with them onto two coach buses. With some creativity and an extra mini van, the mission was accomplished and we were on our way. My dad was a bit surly at this point because he could not figure out why the above process would take slightly more than an hour. I promised him I would disown him and go home from San Pedro Sula if he caused any more trouble. We began our bus segment of the trip. A five-hour tour….. a five-hour tour.

The trip was interesting; the buses drove through the center of town, past swarms of young kids selling all types of food and beverages. Then we scooted through villages and mountains, past swarms of young kids selling all types of food and beverages. As the scenery faded and we started to make some time, the buses stopped. It seems there was some type of mutiny in bus number one. Twenty odd American women needed to pee and there was no bathroom in the bus. We had a toilet in our bus so the gringas were herded onto our bus but at the rate of one female every 10 minutes – we were never going to leave. So after the third woman emerged from the fragrant sauna which was the on board bathroom (right next to my dad) the driver told the rest to cross the highway, do what they needed to do and get ready to move in five minutes. This was a good thing, for many reasons, the chief benefit being that if one more missionary started talking to my dad about God and how much she had to pee, there was going to be a lot of paperwork for me to fill out at the Embassy.

Arrival in “Tecuz”

After the bathroom mutiny was put down and my father was appeased, we continued on to Tecuz. We arrived at 7:30 p.m., 8 hours late. My step mother Miriam and party had been waiting there the whole time, not really knowing what was going on. This was after getting up early in the morning for the three hour bus ride to the airport. She was as happy to see us as we were to be almost done with our initial journey. Now she could eat and not wander around the airport trying to figure out what was going on (This was before cell phones were commonly used). My dad found his man Carlos, who is his personal car rental guy at the airport and picked up his Montero. Carlos was happy because now he could go home as well. We loaded up our tribe and headed to the Pizza Hut across from the airport to provision ourselves before the 2 1/2 hour journey to Choluteca. In addition to Miriam, there was my stepbrother Roger (Row-hair), Miriam’s sister Ingrid and nephew Fernando. Well, Fernando Jose. As it turns out my dad thinks it is immensely funny to say Fernando Jose repeatedly. “Hey Fernando Jose…ha, ha, ha.” “Fernando……Jose…..ha, ha, ha.”


Language Lessons

My dad did not tell me much to prepare for this trip except for a few names of key people, the name of the city we were going to and that “Miriam speaks English real well and many people also speak a lot of English and most of the people understand English even if they do not speak it much.” Boy was that a misperception. Miriam speaks English about as well as I speak Spanish – Kindergarten level. Roger, no habla ingles – but he does speak a lot of Spanish….rapidly. Ingrid and Fernando Jose – don’t seem to speak anything at all, expect that Fernando Jose will smile and grimace after the third or fourth time my dad would chuckle out a “Fernando Jose”. My dad also implied he was becoming a bit of a whiz with Spanish. That was also a grave misperception. I was able to identify 10 – 11 words in his vocabulary while driving – including righto, lefto, and straighto. Occasionally he might say, “hey boy, what does that word mean?” He did not understand Miriam when she repeatedly yelled “Cuidado” (careful), “lento” (slow), “Peligroso” (dangerous), “Tumblos” (speed bumps) and “muchas curves” (many curves).

Later, while not driving, I did overhear a conversation between dad and Miriam, it reminded me of the black and white Tarzan movies of the 1930’s – “Me and boy sleep now”, “Senor Jim pee pee now, comprende.” Oh, the language of love! As it turns out this was a big change from when things kicked off for these two in 1999. Miriam told me that they had met and danced briefly one night. My father obtained her phone number somehow and called her when he returned to the USA. She did not know who he was or understand most of what he was saying. He then had a friend at work write a letter to her in Spanish for him to send to her. Then things just took off from there. After eight days of observation I can say that in spite of my father’s inability to speak Spanish and Miram’s questionable at best English, the communication between these two was much better than the communication I observed between my parents during their last years of marriage.


Driving to Choluteca

My good friends the Lopez sisters are from Puerto Rico. Two of the sisters are married to two other very good friends of mine and a third dated my good friend and former roommate. Therefore, I had six different sources of information about trips to Puerto Rico and an interesting phenomenon called “slug people”. In Puerto Rico it is custom for people to stand, sit, or recline right on the edge line of the road and watch cars go by or occasionally see how close they can lean into the road to watch the action and not get hit. Apparently, this is a custom in all of the Spanish speaking regions of the Caribbean. Not only were there slug people, but there were drunken cowboys on bikes maneuvering in such a manner on the road one might think they were breaking a bull. That was hard to dodge at 45 – 70 miles per hour. Another common sight was two people on one bike. Roughly 80% of bikes on the road have two passengers. One-person pedals and steers, the other person sits on the main bar sidesaddle. That is quite a masterful display on bumpy rocky roads. The 20% of bikes with only one passenger usually featured a person hauling tools, or a mattress, or some other large unwieldy object.

Choluteca, the West Virginia of Honduras, which is the West Virginia of Central America

My father had a pretty difficult life growing up. He did not have running water in his house until he was a high school junior. He hunted so the family could eat. He feels younger in Honduras, the climate is much better for his many health problems so he usually has a spring in his step down there. He also does not have any running water in the Ellison-Rodriquez compound, which is also a way for him to feel young again. I was not made aware of this until I was in the bathroom and tried to flush the toilet. Nothing – nunca. Not a problem on my part, I am not a high maintenance type of person but I like to know these things before I engage in certain activities. I settled into Roger’s room, had a short conversation with him about the operation of the fan and the location of a water source, and then I went to bed. The compound consisted of three small 20 x 20 buildings, a small water tower, and a central yard, all connected by 10 foot high stone walls with barbed wire on top and a 2 inch thick steel door to drive the car through. So began my first day in country about 26 hours after we departed.

Travelogue

We spent the next seven days exploring the sights of Southern Honduras. Apparently, one of the major sights at the time was a very white male from Ohio with blue eyes speaking fragmented Spanish while accompanied by a posse of 3 to 8 step-relatives and an older looking version of himself that would occasionally say “Fernando Jose” then laugh. This never ceased to fascinate people. This aside, there was quite a lot to see and do.

Cedeno

Cedeno is a nice little black sand beach town on the Gulf of Fonseca. There are several beachside shacks that serve some fine seafood and offer a place to observe the various people and activities on the beach as well as the occasional roaming pig. Or the less occasional roasted pig.

Hacienda Gualiqueme Hotel
Tel. 882 2750
Choluteca, Honduras C.A.

This is the most famous and popular hotel in Choluteca, (there are about three). The name has something to do with the very large tree in the center of the courtyard. This hotel is a one story, sprawling compound with a large courtyard, a pool and landscaping. The entire hotel was buried in over ten feet of mud during the hurricane of 98. They did a hell of a job digging the thing out. Most of the city’s infrastructure was wiped out by this hurricane and is just now starting to be rebuilt. This is a good hotel and I would suggest staying here if one was in Choluteca for whatever reason. It is probably the only place you could stay and wake up alive the next morning.

Isla del Tigre (Tiger Island)

I found out about this place doing my own research and pretty much demanded to check this out. We drove to the small fishing village of Coyolito and took a little boat over to the cone shaped (former volcano) island and the town of Amapala. We then paid for a ride to the Hotel Playa Negra. This place is busy in December and January as a local getaway spot but for the rest of the year it is pretty dead. We had the whole hotel and beach to ourselves. The beach looked like something out of an Ernest Hemmingway story. There was a small cabana on the beach where we were served paella and beer. There were fishing boats 150 yards down the beach with men mending their nets and preparing their catch for market. An occasional burro would wander on the beach and we watched two little boys dig for crabs. It was great. I swam in the Pacific Ocean as if it were mine. At that time about 2 square miles of it were mine.


Parrilla El Torito – Choluteca

We ate at this restaurant three times. It is great, the owner is very kind. The menu is English on one side and Spanish on the opposite. Some of the English words are creatively misspelled and don’t make sense. In some cases, there may be 14 items on one side and 20 on the other – so it is difficult to determine which items correspond with the opposite side of the menu if you don’t read Spanish. That just makes it more fun.

San Marcos

We drove to this small town near the Nicaragua border. It is famous for it’s market, which was closed. There is a nice restaurant in town with trees growing inside and a fine ice cream place with no name. At the border we met a German couple that was traveling from Argentina to Alaska on horseback. They were about 1/2 through their trip and if they were allowed to cross the U.S. border they estimated the whole trip would take four years. The horses were a bit of a problem at borders because of foot and mouth disease and various other maladies. The border guards did not know what types of forms would be needed to cross into Honduras and they we not sure who they could contact for further instructions. So the German couple was trying to figure out how to get the right forms to the border so they could cross. While this was an inconvenience it was not as bad as Peru, in that, the horses were almost shot there because the couple had the wrong paperwork.


Valle de Angeles and Santa Lucia

This is a tourist driven area that has a landscape that looks like western Oregon – large rolling hills and small mountains with lots of pines mixed in. The climate was cool. There were many clusters of nice houses in the area – most occupied by staff from the U.S. Embassy. The villages sell any type of tourist thing you could think of including some nice hand woven hammocks but it you want a real deal just buy one on the road in between Choluteca and Tecuz. You can also buy parrots, coconut milk, water and anything else along the road – if you drive slowly enough.


Tegucigalpa

We drove back to town to see the National Museum, which is housed in the green palace-like former governor’s mansion. This is located in the center of downtown Tegucigalpa – a maze of narrow one-way streets and insane taxi drivers intent on killing as many people as possible. The museum was closed because someone had stolen a valuable treasure from the museum that morning. The outside looked cool. Also of note in town is Pollo Campero (country chicken), a restaurant across from the airport. This is a major Central American restaurant chain known for chicken cooked the Central American way. There are three of these restaurants in the U.S, and they have made a fortune feeding homesick Central Americans and gringos. When the L.A. location opened there was a line for ten hours to eat there. I was unable to eat here because it was closed for Mother’s Day. It looked good.

Where School Buses go to die – or be reborn

Have you ever wondered what happens to school buses when they retire in the United States, well, unlike old people from Ohio, they don’t go to Florida; they go to Honduras for a new life. This is odd because on occasion, the buses still have the full name of the school on the side such as “Redneck Springs Exempted Schools” or “Coonskin Creek High School”. More often the names are blacked out or painted over but these things are everywhere – in the cities as public buses, on the highways as “Greyhounds”. Usually the name of the driver or some inspirational slogan is painted on the back – kind of a large bumper sticker. The buses are well cared for and seem to be living a good life other than working 16-20 hours per day


Local Culture

In total, I estimate I met 1279 step relatives in 8 days. Whenever we went somewhere – we would pick up several people, visit a while with others, drop some people off, pick some more up, and take a quick turn at the last minute to hit a country road to visit with some more relatives. This was good for my Spanish practice. It was also an unusual experience for the relatives because the only other gringo they had ever met was a man who laughs, drinks a beer or two or three and occasionally says “Fernando Jose”. At one time, I think every one of these people was in our rented Montero – at once. This is a family oriented country; the people can be generous and hospitable. They have a lot of questions about the United States. My younger male step relatives were disappointed to find out the USA is not populated entirely by supermodels. I was in cities and country farms and everywhere in between. Some people have to get a ride to a drop off point then ride a horse for an hour to get home. Others travel for hours just to get to work or school. There is no complaining – I doubt most people I know could deal with day-to-day life in Honduras. The scenery could be great but everyone litters – that was the only fault I could find (on my first trip, that changed quickly on my subsequent visits) but that is just how it is. My father and I both like to cook, we live by ourselves and are known to do our own laundry. This type of behavior is very uncommon in Honduras even for gay men – which we are not – even though that is not a problem. I kept finding that my clothes would disappear and come back clean the next morning. I will say this for my dad, he cannot speak Spanish and may never learn but he remembers the names of each of those 1279 relatives and various other people and makes his best effort to pronounce each name correctly.

Goat and Bull Balls

We ate well. Fresh goat cheese was a delicacy for us gringos. We got a big ball of it from the grandmother of my father’s goddaughter (Hicela Suyana Mendoza) when we were out in the country visiting and picking her up to take her to school. My dad and I were fond of all the goat had to offer, especially in grilled form. We spent the better part of our last day grilling goat meat for our adios fiesta (start time 1:00 so people show up about 5:00). My stepmother was kind enough to get Bull Balls for dad but I had to promise not to tell him what they were. In fact, I spent the better part of the day building up this special delicacy and acted slightly depressed when the dog ate one of the four we has spent an hour cooking. Anyway, he ate it. I told him what it was. I had to swear an oath not to tell the El Dorado gang what happened. FYI – Bull balls taste like liver – I suggest you go with the goat.


In Review

For an only child, with virtually no family and a pretty dysfunctional family on my dad’s side when it does show up – meeting and living with my 1279 step relatives while on an unplanned Spanish language and cultural immersion course was a unique experience which could not have been conceived of even for a Seinfeld episode. I learned a lot, acquired S.A.S.S. (Sudden Accelerated Shit Syndrome), learned to love all things the goat gives us and spent some quality time with my dad, new family additions, and two great dogs named Porsche and Spy. I also meet some good hombres that work for Trek Safaris (the company that carts the El Dorado Gang on Hunting expeditions) when they can, including the famous Omar. Omar turned out to speak fluent English, to be quite a world traveler and well versed in just about everything as opposed to my vision of a dangerous mercenary pirate from a bad B movie. Unfortunately, I did not meet Omar until my last day. I’ll have Omar’s number for the next time I am in Honduras. Honduras is no longer 117 on my list of places to go to. Plus I found out that my blue eyes – are quite an asset in Central America – as my stepmother kept telling me. Hopefully she will give up on marrying me to my 16 year old step cousin.

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A Wistful Wendy’s Eulogy for #22

Posted by cmh gourmand on September 19, 2016

 

img_5385

A little bit of restaurant history disappeared last week, well at least my history. The Wendy’s located at 3592 North High St was demolished to make way for a new design. It should be up and running by early 2017. While Wendy’s is ubiquitous in Central Ohio my hazy early childhood memories can recall when it was a new concept. The location in Clintonville was the 22nd Wendy’s since the company started in 1969. It opened in 1973. By 1976, there were 500 Wendy’s all over North America. Today there are about 6500 worldwide.

One of my earliest food memories is Burger Chef, I can not recall anything about the food there but I do remember the prizes with their kid’s meals. In contrast I can distinctly remember the first burger and first chili I had at Wendy’s. The burgers served were bigger and fresher. And with their square patties, as what was once the the tag line for Wendy’s, they seemed old fashioned compared to their competition. The Wendy’s chili of the 1970’s was so much better than what is served today.

I can recall finding out that there was a double and a triple burger and feeling determined to try these larger offerings. I think my third or forth Wendy’s burger ever was a triple. Not bad for five year old. I finished it of course but it was the only time I have consumed a Wendy’s triple. I can recall the original decor involved high top tables covered with recreations of old ads. The decor was very similar to Farrell’s at Graceland…..which did not last too long lots of wood, some beads creating a 1920’s feel. Some of the old school tables can be found at Thurman’s in German Village.

My next memory was the Wendy’s salad bar (originating in 1979) which seemed amazing to me. I can remember frequent trips there to make salads to bring home. There was a poppy seed dressing we loved to get and things like bacon bits and fresh croutons seemed like a big deal. As a reflection of how times have changed as an 8 year old I could ride my bike there and order food and eat it there by myself. I can’t imagine eight year old’s doing that in Clintonville today. I’m not sure I can imagine myself riding my bike there in the present, although I need to.

On one of my later bike rides there (when I was 13) I lost my retainer. I rode my bike home to tell my mom I could not find it and she told me to ride back and keep looking for it. Three hours later when I had not returned home, she drove down to check on how I was doing. I was digging through bags of trash at the rear dumpster. She walked up and the very first thing she pulled out…..was my retainer.

The next big deal for me at Wendy’s is something that did not last long enough – the SUPER Bar! When it started, for $2.99 it was all you could eat salad, baked potatoes, Mexican Taco bar, pastas and more. It was phased out in the early 1990’s but in my first years of college, it was a splurge meal option that fit my budget.

My last memory was in college as well. I was eating at Wendy’s with my girlfriend and somehow at a four top table, I thought I had pulled the chair out to sit down but there were only three chairs at the table….so when I squatted to sit, my ass landed on the floor. About twenty people stared at me wondering if they were watching someone loose their mind…..that happened about twenty years later.

While the corner will only be empty for a few month before it is replaced with a new state of the art Wendy’s restaurant it will not be the same for me. It is interesting how something as mundane as a fast food restaurant can intertwine in your life in ways you don’t recognize until it is gone.

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A Decade of Dining, Discussion and Digressions

Posted by cmh gourmand on August 28, 2016

Gourmand

Well, here we are ten years later and CMH Gourmand….continues.

For the last few years, I have struggled on whether to continue with this blog, occasionally stepping back and asking myself why I do this? Readership has not been what it was during the zenith of this (and other blogs) years ago but there is still a reader base none the less. I certainly like my base better the Republican base (which scare the shit out of me). I can take some solace in the fact that other media, like newspapers, have had the same decline as well. I’ve come to equate my base as comparable to people who still collect and seek out vinyl records.

I am also quick to acknowledge (knowing there are those that would be quicker to point out) that there is much I could do, fairly easily, to grow my own base: more social media especially Instagram, a dedicated Facebook page, updating layout and graphics and such. I could start doing all types of promotion – shameless and otherwise. However, I have no interest in any of these options. I’m content for this to be a true blog in the spirit of when blogs started way back (in 1994, 1997 or (mainstream by all accounts in 2004) depending on who you ask, a web log of my adventures and thoughts.

In the last months as I have asked myself, why blog? I have not felt the need to justify the answer back to myself. My response has been “why not?”

Another solace is that the heat is off since now that I am ten years into this, I have a body of work that can stand on its own without the perceived need and pressures to continue to churn out material on a regular basis. On a positive note, I did have a bit of a rally this year and crafted a respectable number of posts including a few I thought were really good or at least at least creatively different from other things I read day-to-day. Most people would not have noticed but I did invest several hours updating, fine-tuning and cleaning up some junk in this archive over the last year.

I updated the Eating Athens and Pizza pages, I added and will continue to work on my Ohio Ice Cream page. I deleted some older posts that were no longer relevant, updated and cleaned up errors in other posts and created a new category – CLOSED – for all of the places that no longer exist. Sadly 43 of my posts are about places that are no longer open, several of which were among my favorites. Links have been updated as well as my About/Bio section. To the dismay of the Dining Duder research has continued on the Ohio Donut Trail culminating in a dedicated page for those activities. For fans of the Donut Trail, I have almost completed the southern part of the state. I have one trip to Jackson and one trip to Cincinnati before I turn my attention north. Looking at my notes, when (if ever) the Ohio Donut Trail is completed there will be at least forty and potentially fifty great Ohio donut spots listed.

Moving forward this year and beyond, other than when I post the last entry in CMH Gourmand (which has been written) I will no longer posts marking off the anniversaries. There will be more “dining diatribes” as I increasingly become a grumpy old man. What I look forward to the most as CMH Griffin ages, is backtracking to all of the road trips documented here and having him enjoy each of these spots with me with fresh eyes, an open mind and very likely a large appetite.

My other shared “bodies of work” continue as well. Although I am not embedded in the Food Truck world as much as I was, Street Eats Columbus keeps on trucking as does (although very much in need of an updated census) Taco Trucks Columbus. Looking at the Venn diagram of CMH Gourmand and Bricks of Ohio Blog readership (overlap of 3), while I have not been on a brick foraging mission in 2016, I do believe I will find more as time goes on. One day the two worlds will collide when I finally create time to build a brick pizza oven.

A final observation. This is post 666, which my high school self, who loved heavy metal (although was wary of the culture that went with it), would have found hilarious.

Posted in Food For Thought | 4 Comments »

Whopperrito: I did it for you.

Posted by cmh gourmand on August 24, 2016

Whopperito

There is a young man living in the greater Grandview area that I am a bit of a fan of. However, had it not been for him and his social media baiting, I would not have known about the Whopperito. In fact when I first saw him mention it, I thought is was hoax, perhaps a prank. Well, the Whopperito does indeed exist. In fact, word has been out most of the summer with the general theme of the conversation being disdain. Apparently, this Whopperito is a thing.

Unless you have lived under a rock or are a very recent immigrant from an obscure country you have encountered a Whopper in your life time and most likely eaten one. But just in case you are not familiar with the Whopper let us digress for a bit of history. The iconic burger debuted in 1957. The classic Whopper consists of: flame grilled quarter-pound burger, sesame seed bun (since 1970), mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, pickles, ketchup and sliced onion. In college I could get two Whopper’s for $2.22 and for a while that became a late night snack to soak up Natural Light or if I was living large a well drink cocktail certainly my tastes have changed with time but I can still be nostalgic. Maybe I’m responsible for the Whopperrito, especially if the parent company has been tracking my blog posts and eating patterns for the last year of so. Perhaps they were emboldened by their decisive win in the epic Burger King vs. Wendy’s 4/5 for $4 face-off.

As for the Whopperrito, it is a Whopper in burrito form with minor tweaks. It is a mix of the regular Whopper ingredients minus the ketchup and mustard. The meat is served in large chunks of broken up Whopper flame grilled beef that is seasoned with a special blend of spices and thin queso-like pepper cheese. Nutritionally it is 570 calories, 29 grams of protein and 11 grams of saturated fat vs. a traditional Whopper which is 630 calories, 26 grams of protein and 11 grams of saturated fat.

In addition to a bit of subliminal twitter taunting, the existence of a Whopperrito drew me to eat it like the USS Palomino to a Black Hole. It was inevitable that this would happen. Typically I am impervious to most fast food advertising and gimmicks with a few exceptions: White Castle, occasionally Wendy’s if the item is “bold” and when Burger Chef included Legos on their kids meals. This new product merged my positive leanings towards Whoppers with my affinity for burritos. What was the result? The Whopperrito is greater than the sum of its parts. While not enjoyable it was edible. If any BK executives are monitoring this post, these are my suggestions: make the pickle pieces smaller and replace the pepper cheese queso sauce with a thicker, cheesier American cheese/Velveeta styled sauce to hold all of the parts together more cohesively.

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My verdict. I would always pick a Whopper over a Whopperrito. If my suggested changes are put into place, I’d still choose a Whopper nine times out of ten. My experience with the Whopperrito did give me a better appreciation for the Whopper. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts with the Whopper and the key to that burger persisting for nearly 60 years is the power of proportions – it has just the right blends of all of the ingredients, nailing the ketchup to mayonnaise ratio.

A brief side note. I was not sure how I would feel about the Whopperito or if I could finish it. So as a preemptive strike, I ordered a hot dog too. For the price Burger King serves a respectable hot dog. They use a good quality bun that seems lightly steamed (?) or at least it is fluffy, and grill the all beef hot dog then add a right amount of mustard, relish and (heaven forbid, ketchup). In an emergency it will do.

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

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 4, 2016

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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.

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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.

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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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Small Bite: Wendy’s Black Bean Burger; Big Picture Why Fast Food needs a Veggie Burger and why they aren’t working

Posted by cmh gourmand on March 14, 2016

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Ok, well one of many things you may not know about me, I have a strong internal calling to try out new veggie burgers at fast food places, especially when created by locally owned White Castle and Wendy’s. In my past, I had the fortune to do product sampling for both companies and tried a few veggie burgers at each over the years. (Please note previous White Castle Veggie Burger research -> HERE

So let us now cut to the chase. The new Black Bean Burger at Wendy’s looks and tastes like a Morningstar Farm Black Bean Burger I have tried many times. It includes some bean chunks and a few pieces of corn mixed in for variety. The price was $4.49. It rests on a very nice looking bun and is complimented by some fancy pepper jack cheese with some fluffy and pseudo artisan greens that had the taste and consistency of paper. Visually everything looked good. The flavor profile would best be described as bland and mostly flavorless – a good source of fiber and that is the best positive I can comment on. As served it is 560 calories and 24 fat grams. A Wendy’s single with Cheese is 550 calories and costs less.

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Now that the review is done, we can discuss the socioeconomic and philosophical points about fast food veggie burgers. I’ll add some additional background. I’m not here to attack veggies burgers. I lived off them multiple times per week throughout the first decade of this century. I used to drive to the Morningstar outlet store in Worthington to save a few dollars on patties and see what new products where out there. I had a great fast food veggie burger at an Australian Hungry Jacks (Burger King) in Melbourne in 1989. I have tried them throughout the USA and the world, mostly out of curiosity. I believe in the teachings of Michael Pollan and others (although I certainly do not practice those beliefs in this second decade of the century) that we are better off as individuals and as a society if we “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Our health and planet improves when we do so. I get it.

The key to making a fast food veggie burger work is to do what White Castle did to make the first fast food burgers work in the 1920’s – make them cheap and sell them by the sack. An expensive, fancy veggie burger does not drive consumption the way a dollar menu burger would or should. Anyone that is not a veggie person is not going to pay that price point for something they do not want. Someone that does want a veggie burger is going to pay three times as much at Northstar but get a better product with better nutrition. Give it a fast food veggie burger a basic bun, a slice of cheese and a nice pickle, plop it on the value menu then give it a generation to sink it and it will work by altering the eating habits of consumers with the balance of price and convenience. Make it (and price it) for the masses so the masses will eat it – better for business and maybe better for body mass. While this may seem far-fetched, it is good business sense. In India – where few eat beef, Burger King has been progressive and aggressive in launching a vegetarian line of sandwiches that are doing well – I’d love to try any of them here. In that subcontinent – Wendy’s offers a potato patty which by description and with a bit of research sounds better than their black bean offering here.

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Hounddogs Hallowed Delivery Icon(s)

Posted by cmh gourmand on January 18, 2016

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4 cars, 3 rockets and 2 dogs make one Iconic Columbus Car
(The story of Houndogs delivery machine)

Chances are even if you have never tried Hounddogs Pizza, you have wondered about the iconic car that delivers “pizza for the people”. In the beginning, or 1997 in this case, this dog star was born as non-traditional marketing. The inspiration came late one night. Owner Jeff Stewart had a vision of a Hounddog strapped to a rocket that he could mount to a classic car he recently acquired. Stewart started the project the next morning.

The original dog was make by a local artist, Mike Foley. Stewart called CCAD to find a sculptor and was eventually referred to a former student. When asked about his credentials, Foley replied “come over to my house on Indianola to see my work.” Stewart found a house filled with sculptures of all sizes and shapes and knew he found the right person to craft his canine.

The first night out was quite memorable, the rocket was sheared off of the dog when it caught on a low hanging parking garage roof. Since then, things have really taken off for the car and the pizza joint.

There have been three rockets over the years. The second was remounted on the original Hounddog and then attached (in order) to: 1971 Cadillac Coupe de Ville (1997 to 2001), 1988 VW Golf (2002-2003), 1985 Cadillac Fleetwood Broughham Limo (2003 – 2013). After a hiatus, a new dog with a new rocket was mounted on a 1962 Cadillac Fleetwood in the summer of 2015. The “new” car is red like the original with diamondback plate mounted on the roof as a base for a hallowed hounddog creating an unforgettable delivery vehicle.

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Bonus stuff below:

It Takes a Village to Craft a Car

Jeff Stewart is not one to toot his own turn, for anything Hounddogs, he is quick to state all accomplishments are a team effort. His team for the mobile delivery service encompasses twenty years of hands on experience. One of his drivers has over a decade of service under his belt. Andy, at Campus Auto has served has ER and surgeon to keep Hounddogs classic cars clunking along since the original rolled onto his lot nearly a of score years ago.

Quick Facts
The first rocket took 15 hours to fabricate. The second took off in just a few hours.

Stewart had a basset hound in college, which was part of the inspiration for the logo and car art, but because of the long hours he put in for the pizza shop, he had to give him up to a friend.

All cars except the Golf have been called into service to run family and friends to the airport, creating a memorable start to many vacations.

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What’s Up at White Castle: Turkey, Breakfast and Whatnot

Posted by cmh gourmand on November 13, 2015

As some readers are aware, I’ve written about White Castle before. I have a compulsion to try new products when they release them to the masses. I don’t love White Castle but I have always respected the company and their institutional commitment to innovate.

First for discussion, Turkey Sliders….just in time for the holidays.

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I tried the Turkey Dinner Slider: square (Butterball) Turkey patty, a big squirt of cranberry sauce and in my case a giant malformed sweet potato waffle fry. Verdict, one was enough. If you want to save some money I would suggest ordering the Cranberry Turkey Slider for 40 cents less and investing that savings in a full order of Sweet Potato Waffle fries. I’m glad I tried this concoction, don’t get me wrong but this is a novelty item but a destination sandwich.

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Second for discussion, Breakfast 24/7.

White Castle beat McDonald’s to the punch in making breakfast an all day affair. This pleased me immensely because as many readers know, breakfast is my fourth favorite meal. Other than anything at Starliner Dinner, anything served at Explorer’s Club and home fries with sausage gravy at Nancy’s, there is only one other breakfast item that I ever crave – the White Castle Breakfast Sandwich. I order the version on the bun (not the toast option) with egg, sausage and cheese. Doing very thorough analysis, this is the best value of any White Castle menu item. And since I am typically not near a White Castle at traditional breakfast times, being able to get this sandwich anytime has guaranteed a significant higher volume of consumption on my part. Good job White Castle.

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Third for discussion, smart ingredient integration that gives the customer the sense of an upgrade.

White Castle takes a clear plastic cup, fills it with Sprite and adds a dash of cranberry juice and markets it as a Cranberry Spritzer. Genius way to up sell a product using what they already have in-house.

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Stay tuned for my next White Castle adventure….whenever a new product rolls or slides out.

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The Nine Year: A) Itch, B) Stretch, C) Anniversary D) All of the Above

Posted by cmh gourmand on August 26, 2015

It has been a tradition for this blog to recognize the last year of CMH Gourmanding with a reflection on the launch date anniversaryn to include some thanks and a look forward. Welcome to the end of the ninth year of eating with me. It has been a busy year.

There definitely is an itch. An itch to rebrand the blog, to write more, to write better, to hit the road or ride to the end of the street to discover something new or rediscover something that was forgotten. But I won’t be scratching those itches much. Nine years is a long stretch. Nine years is a lifetime in the blogging world. I have seen many people start a blog strong then very quickly go long stretches without posting and then sputter out. I have seen a few – not many – end a blog well – with a great sign off or an insightful or meaningful denouement. Most old blogs don’t die, they just fade away.

So the year leading up to the diamond anniversary begins with semi-retirement or dormancy. The next 365 days may mark the end of this blog. I’m not sure if the next 1-12 months will be a hibernation, a sabbatical or capitulation. Blogging has been more chore or a duty than a passion in 2015. And frankly, this blog is not what it used to be (and the readership attests to that). I don’t get out much anymore. I’m not the first guy at the unknown and undiscovered places and my words have a little less zing and a lot less alliteration. And when it comes to it, blogs are so – 2000, it ain’t what it used to be and there are a lot of new kids on the block (and in my old man voice, I don’t think many of them do that great of a job and are too focused on promoting themselves).

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Gourmand Junior is here and needs my attention as I Mr. Dad around town looking forward to introducing him to his first foods. My wife is not miserably pregnant anymore and her tibia, fibia and ankle have mended, CMH Tobias is mostly healthy again and the Gourmand Abode is finally – almost finished – after a year of renovation, in part by Gourmand General Contracting. Brew Adventures has been going well but needs even more attention and focus from me I want to grow the empire bigger and better before we get too far away from the second anniversary of the business.

If I get the gumption to do ten posts from now until August 2016, then I will do a tenth anniversary recap and see where we go from there. Good eating all.

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S.W.A.T.

Posted by cmh gourmand on June 24, 2015

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If you missed my article about the late Roger Gentile in Stock and Barrel, I’d suggest you read it -> HERE, before you proceed.

S.W.A.T. stands for Secret Wine Appreciation Tastings. These were outings by a small number of friends that traveled to the best wine regions of the world to learn about wines and stockpile the best of them. This small cadre of gentlemen was composed of the Who’s Who of Columbus’ upper echelon with the means to live large while expanding their collections. However, this was no collection of rat pack style playboys, this group was one and all, on a mission to do some good with their good fortune. For years, they have taken some of the best of their collections to make dream packages for auctions to support charities such as Recreation Unlimited. This group has largely chosen to remain in the shadows and well….secret. I’ll keep their identities classified but I will offer a small insight into what they do.

This group periodically gets together to share the company of each other, an excellent meal and too many bottles of wine to count. I was given the great honor to attend one of these lunches, the first after the passing of Roger, as a thank you for writing about the group’s defacto leader, heart, soul and chief instigator.

The group met at Worthington Inn for lunch. Lunch was of course, excellent. Each member brought a guest with them (typically new potential member) and some of their best wines. In my invitation I was advised to “make sure I had a way to get home after, just in case.” While I did not partake to that extreme, I did indeed have wines that I have never had and most likely will never sip again. Of the 50+ bottles on the table I spied a bottle from at least 20 countries with price tags greater than what I earn in a week, maybe a month in a few instances. The oldest bottle of wine was from 1974 the youngest was not from this decade. Each had a story of being a rarity, a tale of how it was obtained, or an epic on how it was “stolen” at auction.

In the past I have judged wines for competitions and poured wines at festivals but I never saw an array of alcohols of this caliber. However, my second favorite memory of this time involved a wine encased in tin foil to hide its identity. The experts around the table were asked to guess where the wine hailed from. After tasting, smelling and swirling there was no consensus. Guesses ranged from a specific region of France to a specific Napa Valley Vineyard. The man who poured this sample for everyone was a man who has hosted and supported this group over many, many years, Kamal Boulos from the Refectory. I was able to see the glint in his eye and a trace of a smile as he unveiled the bottle which was from none other than Ravenhurst from Mt. Victory Ohio!

My favorite memory of this meal was witnessing this fellowship of a group of old friends as we made a Toast to Roger Gentile, the leader of the pack. Roger made his mark with these fellas and they continue their work for charity so that his spirit will live on in their efforts.

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