CMH Gourmand – Eating in Columbus & Ohio

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A Very Big Night at Ambrose & Eve

Posted by cmh gourmand on June 12, 2019

I had a very big night at Ambrose and Eve.

I have consumed one to five meals per day for my entire life which is now one half century but only a handful of those meals are memorable. As a point of reference I am listing my other memorable meals in short order. 1998: Wine Dinner at Lost Planet Pizza and Pasta. 2002 Dinner with friends at the Minh Minh in Melbourne. Although we had a reservation and three bottles of BYOB wine at our table, the owner was determined to flip each table every thirty minutes. We assertively declined to do so until we finished our last bottle. Due to our assertive, but polite determination to enjoy our meal and resolute stance that we would not be treated like an assembly line we received a round of applause from the rest of the diners when we departed because we stood our ground. The food was good. The wine was great. The commentary from our server was surreal. 2004 Lunch in Cinque Terre with friends I made in Europe. I vowed to return to the same spot someday and I did for my honeymoon in 2014. 2008 The First Slow Food Shake The Hand That Feeds You Dinner. 2008 During the third or fourth day of a massive power failure in Columbus a feast made with all of the collective food getting ready to spoil gathered and prepared by an elite group of “foodies” in Victorian Village. 2011 My third Hot Dog Palooza Party. 2012 A whole pig pork roast led by Dan Kraus (of Baba’s) in my backyard. The guests included many of the best food truck chefs in the city and it was epic. I now add wonderful dinner at Ambrose and Eve on June 8th 2019 to this list.

A memorable meal can not be created and in this case it was not my goal but I did stack the odds in my favor (although not consciously). My wife and I rarely get out of the house. We do not have the budget or time to do so and our schedules often do not align well but in this case we had free baby sitting and a special occasion to observe. Specifically for me, I had a Saturday off. For the last six years I have worked nearly every Saturday and have only had a handful of Saturdays followed by a Sunday off. And to be honest, as a small business owner, I did not really have the whole Saturday off – but I only worked for an hour and that was close enough.

From an exceedingly long list of places I would like to try out one place stood well above the rest, Ambrose and Eve. It us run by the chef team of Catie Randazzo and Matt Heaggans. Both are excellent chefs. Both are friends and former clients. I had several opportunities to walk though the space during build out but never had an opportunity to dine in for dinner. I knew my wife would enjoy the experience. Because we rarely get an evening for us, I wanted this to be something we would both enjoy. Back in the “old days” we used to explore next places together all of the time but as parents, the few times we do go out we look for Griffin friendly spots (a 3 year old without an off switch) and as a rule, stick to a few tried and true places due to wanting Griffin Friendly places. As an added bonus, the date in question was my birthday and I had vowed for over a year that I would not work the weekend in question. In an attempt to thwart my wife trying to create any surprises, I did not tell her where we were going for dinner until the afternoon of our evening out. I did tell her who was going a few days before and she strongly approved the guest list. Getting ready to head out for dinner I was in an exceptionally good mood. I had finished spending almost four hours with my son at Chuck E. Cheese for quality guy time. I rarely get to spend any time with him on Saturdays so for the two of us to have that block of time together doing something he was excited to do was awesome. And….we did not eat while we were there so I can still say I have never eaten at Chuck E. Cheese. On most Saturdays I feel of guilt for being away from Griffin for most of the day and until recently often all day. I did not have that on my plate on this Saturday.

When I was considering my guest list, I weighed in several factors. First, having a guest list was exciting because typically when we are out on the town we are either with family or have a short window to get back home. For this occasion, we would be with adults and having adult conversations and adult food and with no need to cut food for anyone else and we had no kid gear to pack. I decided that a party of the six would be the perfect number. Not too many people nor too few. It is the perfect size for a restaurant -> parties of eight are harder to place, larger than that is a pain in the ass and I do not want to be a pain in the add to Matt or Catie….they know where I live. Also six is a good number for having good conversation and for exploring a menu in depth without someone getting lost in the crowd.

There is a long list of people I would like to have dinner with, people I have not seen in years or people I might like to know better, but for this day, I wanted my party of six to be a sure thing=. I invited Angelo and Kathy Signorino and Lenny and Joan Kolada. Angelo and Lenny are people I have worked with for nearly every Saturday for the last six years so how could I spend a Saturday without them. Angelo is the head brewer at Barleys and Lenny is the owner of Smokehouse Brewing and Commonhouse Ales. I knew both love to eat as much as I do and we would have plenty to talk about, both are great conversationalists. I know Joan pretty well too and can not think of many people that I would consider to be as kind or thoughtful. I had only met Kathy once or twice but knew her well enough to know she would be an excellent dinner companion. I was pretty sure none of us had eaten at Ambrose and Eve so I made a reservation.

We all approached the meal with the same mindset. We also started with a cocktail – none of us ordering the same thing and as seems to be a default setting, Angelo surmised that ordering a bottle or two of Prosecco was in order. Eventually we got around to ordering and did so with breadth and depth.

We started with:

CRISPY BRUSSELS
Garum, honey, pecorino

MUSHROOM BORDELAISE
Local mushrooms, Shagbark grits, red wine

SMOKED FISH SPREAD
Ritz crackers, cucumber relish

Ritz crackers with the dish (which I could not eat) of course, it was the perfect thing to serve and we all appreciated and celebrated that.

HEARTS OF PALM
Roasted beets, beet romesco, citrus salad, pistachio dukkah

It was nice to be surrounded by people that all appreciated beets, which so often are unappreciated.

I think we ordered….

PORK RIBS
Fish sauce caramel, celery root curry

However I am allergic to fish and because I was eating and talking so much, I did not take any notes as is appropriate for an enjoyable dinner.

We also ordered both bread options.

TOAST AND JAM
Stratcciatella, housemade jam, olive oil, soft herbs, focaccia

CORNBREAD (I loved this dish more than all others, and that is saying a lot)
Maple, pimento cheese, watercress

It seemed that Chef Matt had an extra order of the cornbread in the kitchen so he sent that out after we inhaled the first. I am fairly certain I ate all of it on my own and that point my memory and judgment may have been suspect.

Also, Chef Matt seemed to notice there were a few items we did not order so he somehow used his spider sense to determine that he should send out an order of ->

CUCUMBER CARPACCIO
Szechuan peppercorn vinaigrette, shiso, pumpkin seed, black togarashi

It was amazing. There was not dish we ate that anyone in our group of six thought was less than excellent but this one seems to be the sleeper hit of the evening. We almost ordered it but hesitated yet Chef Matt knew that we would be remiss not trying this, and he was right. It is a simple dish of razor thin slices of cucumber with the the right amount of vinaigrette drizzled on and pumpkin seeds which perfectly complimented every other flavor on the plate and a modicum of black togarashi to knock it out of the park.

We also ordered EGGPLANT PARMESAN (Oven dried tomatoes, capers, pecorino, thyme, tomato butter sauce) from the dinner menu. Everyone was fairly stuffed at this point but I strongly felt that not ordering the Fried Chicken Supper for Two (I could have been gluttonous by ordering the Four Person Supper) which includes several pieces of perfectly fried chicken, perfect green beans in the tradition of haricots verts, potato salad (which was delicious and borders on having the consistency of smashed potatoes) and the absolute finest biscuits I have had in my life, and I mean that, the best biscuits with no other contenders a close second. I only ate one half of one biscuit at the restaurant but I ate three for lunch two days later with nothing on them and they were still amazingly perfect.

At some point Chef Matt sent out an order of Carolina Hot Chicken (not Nashville, Carolina), that was consumed with a focus.

At this stage of the game all of us were full. I knew some of the chicken was going home (and a few green beans for Griffin who loves all fruits and vegetables) but in the spirit of Shackleton and Mallory I mustered the courage to make the group continue on. I ordered a cherry fry pie with ice cream for dessert and carefully dissected it into small portions so that each person could have a bite. Using his great wisdom, Chef Matt sent out some incredible (and completely vegan) chocolate mousse which we consumed slowly but surely, mostly by force of will.

Between bites, we enjoyed great conversations and good company. It was enjoyable to explore a new place together as a group. We wondered about some of the dishes and discussed what we enjoyed about each. We shared stories of past meals and adventures and in doing so what felt like 45 minutes was nearly four hours. I do not think I have had such an enjoyable evening since my wedding over five years ago.

Days later, it seems all of us are still thinking about and talking about this meal, which means we did it right. It was also enjoyable for me to eat and enjoy the food of Ambrose and Eve created by two people I have a lot of respect for. Catie was at Preston’s (one of their other restaurants that evening) but Matt made time to come out to see us. I was glad to see him enjoying what he was doing and I think he had at least the slightest of smirks seeing and hearing about how much we enjoyed the fruits of his labors in the kitchen. During our meal, Keith and Yanka Smith formerly of the Green Meanie Food Truck stopped in at the bar for a snack so Jamie and I had a chance to catch up with them. The Green Meanie was one of the food trucks that catered our wedding and we had not seen Keith or Yanka in almost four years. I saw a few others that I knew throughout the course of the evening and it was nice to see my circle of people….which has a very far radius these days, making the same decision to try Ambrose and Eve and love it. It was the most social evening I have had in many years. I do not think I could have experienced anything any better – food, service, company, etc., everything was what I would want it to be. It was a perfect night out and I was with the perfect people to share it with, especially my wife.

It will probably be a while before I have a night like this again, but I hope it will be sooner instead of later. Ambrose and Eve is a special space. Years ago, the Galaxy Cafe was the place for my posse, a place we dined at several times per month. We loved the food and became fast friends with the owner and and staff. I felt at home in the Galaxy space(s). I was always part of the place instead of an anonymous satellite. The Galaxy sometimes had aspects of being our private club. Alana’s was a restaurant I enjoyed very much, it was never THE “place” for me like the Galaxy but I loved the approach to food and ingredients that Alana incorporated into her menu. Ambrose and Eve is a rough fusion of the spirits of these two places and in doing so, and because of my personal connection to the Matt and Catie, I believe that Ambrose and Eve is going be my special place for the decades to come.

Thank you to my wife, Lenny, Joan, Angelo, Kathy, Matt and all who made it such a memorable night. For anyone that has seen the movie Big Night, the evening felt very much like the last meal in that film. I had bits of the soundtrack of that movie in my head as I drove home. Or maybe that was the cocktail I had at Antiques on High.

If you care to have a memorable meal, or at least a very good one, get yourself to:
Ambrose & Eve (Brewery District)

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How Fairlife Saved My Life?

Posted by cmh gourmand on May 4, 2019

Over the last year almost every day in the Gourmand household has felt like running a marathon and then being told at the end, that we had to do the same thing the next day. We moved a few weeks ago and have been without a kitchen for three weeks as of the writing of this post and we are looking at a minimum of two more weeks of washing dishes in the bathtub, eating what will fit on a toaster oven and grilling any day we can. When I was contacted by fairlife with the enticement of getting samples of a new product I replied very quickly – YES. A free meal is a big deal based on our current life circumstances and definitely with my current budget (got any loose change anyone).

The fairlife® nutrition plan™ is now available in Central Ohio. I received two chocolate replacement shakes which are part of this plan. These are intended for people working toward a healthier life style (sure, that is me). The shake base starts with fairlife ultra-filtered milk (which is lactose-free and has 50% more protein and 50% less sugar than regular milk). The milk is then blended with real cocoa. The end result is creamy and very much rich in chocolate flavor. Each 11.5 oz bottle has 30g of protein, 2g of sugar, 730mg of calcium (most of the recommended daily value for a person of my age) plus eight essential vitamins & minerals. All of that adds up to only 150 calories and tastes really good. I tested the chocolate milk CMH Griffin drinks against a sample of this and he gave it a big thumbs up.

As for saving my life, I forgot that I asked them to send me a sample. I came home late one night, starving from not eating all day (it happens) and I found a fairlife box in our refrigerator. When I opened it I found quick access to food and chugged one in three seconds. Free food that tastes good is a big win in our house. While I am not a nutrition plan person, I would gladly give this a try since it is essentially like drinking a good quality chocolate milk. As a long-term bonus for fairlife, I did not know the brand existed until I got the e-mail offer from them. After that I started to notice that it is everywhere, including right next to the milk I buy for Griffin at Kroger every week. Thanks for the freebie fairlife I will try your stuff more often now.

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Del Sroufe: The China Study Family Cookbook

Posted by cmh gourmand on August 29, 2018

I met Del Sroufe in the mid 1990’s. The first time we crossed paths he was making vegan baked goods in a small bakery tucked away in the back of the Clintonville Community Co-op. I was intrigued by him choosing to make vegan items but I soon as I tried one, I did not care, so I took close to a baker’s dozen away and ate most of them. I’m not always the brightest bulb so at that early moment in my culinary life I equated vegan with fat-free. So when I took the last one to my girlfriend at the time she was flabbergasted that I offered he such as thing not because it was vegan but because she could see the grease from the item saturating the bakers paper it was on as I handed it to her. She was on a diet and I had apparently consumed about 90 or more fat grams during my drive to deliver my treat to her.

Not to be discouraged by something like reality, I kept going back to Del to try more things (although fewer at one time and with more moderation). In doing so we struck up conversations about why he had decided to shift to mostly vegan foods, what got him into baking, etc. In our fourth or fifth conversation, he mentioned that he was starting to work on a book and it was kind of hard. As a fellow writer I encouraged him to keep at it and did not think much of it. That interchange fell off my radar but my connect to Del did not. I took some of his cooking classes and work shops. I sent a lot of people to his new business. I’d run into him more often at the library than anywhere else. Then lo and behold I heard about Forks Over Knifes and that he was connected to and working with the founders. In 2012, he released the Forks Over Knives Cookbook and things really took off for Del. I’m very happy for him.

This year we have been looking at a lot of what we eat and how we might change that to help CMH Griffin with some of his challenges. That prompted me to check out The China Study Family Cookbook. Other than the fact that Del is the author, there are a lot of things I like about this book. Just as I did to Del, I immediately took a liking to this book. The recipes are written and displayed in an easy to use manner. Each listing has color coded icons at the top so you know what types of ingredients (grains, legumes, roots, etc.) you will be using and what dietary audience the dish is intended for. Most recipes include Recipe Tips which give the reader/user suggestions such as things to consider if you want to change-up some of the ingredients in the recipe such as if you want to sub in broccoli for asparagus. Additionally there are also Notes for the Cook which share tidbits related to the techniques used in the dish or general factoids of knowledge to use the ingredients more effectively, etc.

There are also general knowledge areas in the cookbook to make sure you have basic skills or at least a refresher course to help you execute your recipes more effectively. Short overviews are provided in using equipment and tools properly (blenders, non stick cookware, knives, etc.). There are also helpful sections on how to integrate cooking with the kids to make it a family experience and ideas to get different ages to participate. The book as a whole is worth taking a look at and since it is written by someone who cooks for a living and teaches classes on it, the material has already been field tested and is conveyed in an easy to use manner. Good Job Del! Now how about working on some fat-free vegan muffins that taste like that have twelve sticks of butter in them. Tweaking the way you eat does not need to strip out flavor or feel like a chore it can be fun and help you feel better.

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A Sad and Unexpected Demise for CBC Restaurant

Posted by cmh gourmand on August 2, 2018

CBC Restaurant, Formerly known as Columbus Brewing Company Restaurant closed with little notice on Sunday July 29th. I visited many times over the years and as the operator of the local brewery tour company used the site as a meeting place for well over 50% of our tours. To say the closing is devastating to me is a vast understatement. The restaurant has a long story and I was happy to share that story weekly for the last five years.

The origins of the restaurant go back to 1997. At that time, Columbus Brewing Company which was fighting hard to keep crafting beer in Columbus made the big step of moving to a production space to allow them to crank up more fermenters to keg and bottle more beer for more people. A unique, synergistic partnership was created by attaching a restaurant called Columbus Brewing Company Restaurant to the front part of the building. The restaurant was owned and operated by Cameron Mitchell but per the operating agreement would be called Columbus Brewing Company Restaurant. The restaurant showcased CBC’s beers and hosted special events for the brewery. The opening general manager Doug Griggs teamed up with Mike Campbell, to buy the restaurant from Cameron Mitchell in 2007. The brewery/restaurant relationship continued, even though the ownership of the brewery has changed a few times along the way. While that synergy soured in the final years, the pairing was historically good for both businesses and all of the customers. For many years, it was one of the premiere craft beer destinations in the Midwest and it was not uncommon for people to drive from out of state for a meal and a few growlers of Bodhi to take home.

At the beginning of the summer, I was excited about their plans to change to a new concept called Oxbow on Short in the fall and our company planned to continue to call them our homebase for many of our tours. I looked forward to adding to the the story of the space. After surviving some hard times over the last few years due to extended construction and in some cases reconstruction on Liberty and Short Streets, things were looking up for the whole team. Several factors combined which led to a rapid decision to pull the plug on CBC Restaurant, with a primary reason to be the failing health of owner Doug Griggs. I miss the extedned CBC Restaurant family and I have been trying to help the workers find jobs with our other partners. All in all, the restaurant had a great run of twenty one years and it is sad we did not have more time with them. The space was important to the growth of the craft community in Columbus and is sorely missed.

Special thanks to Jamie, Jamie Lynn, Vince, Jen, Rusty and Kate for so much extra help and attention over the years.

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Cakes & More (a lot more: Empanadas, Chivitos, Fried Chicken…….)

Posted by cmh gourmand on December 26, 2017

Cakes and More could not have a more cumbersome location. It is sandwiched between a tattoo parlor and a tobacco store in a dingy strip that also features Pita Hut and the cultural hub of the Midwest, Bob’s Bar. It is just north of the very busy Morse Road and High Street intersection. Attempting to turn into the small lot, heading northbound is a non option during any peak traffic times and a leap of faith dependent on the good will of southbound drivers at most other times.

The business has been open since 2011. I have a very vague memory of popping in to look at the counters after a trip to Pita Hut in the late summer of 2011. It was an odd interlude of my life so my memory of that time is hazy at best but I think I walked in, saw few offerings that interested me then walked back out to head home. It as a ten second introduction.

Flash forward to the late summer of 2017. A banner was added to the sign offering the unusual combination of Empanadas and Fried Chicken. As they say in the old timey picture shows….Hello Nurse! That is the kind of combination that would interest me very much. I finally made my first trip to investigate in November with very low expectations. However this time I immediately connected with the place. I saw display counters filled with mouth-watering cakes, cookies and confections. I spied traditional treats from Mexico as well as Central and South America. It surprised me to see a few continental classics including eclairs and Napoleons (aka mille-feuille). As I stood pondering my options, I spied several signs listing out sandwich options, empanada prices and a Friday grilled meat special. Cakes and More definitely fulfills the sweet and savory needs for this Gourmand. My intense study of everything caught the attention of the man at the counter, who happens to be the husband of the owner/baker/pastry chef. He hails from the Dominican Republic, so a few items from his homeland are featured. His wife’s background included roots in Argentina and Uruguay. The items showcased in the cases are a collection of favorites from their collective comfort food classics and travels.

I made three research visits to write this post. On each visit I have consumed empanadas and eclairs. The empanadas are $3 each. I think they are the best I have had in Columbus. Fillings are either chicken of beef. The shell is flavorful and flakey with a great twisted crust. I think two for $5 is a great value and makes a filling meal. Having tried three eclairs on three occasions I can find no flaw in their execution and as long as there is one available it will be a default order on each visit.

I have only tried the Napoleon once (because they are rarely available). It is with the greatest confidence that I state it is the best I have had in my lifetime. As a child, there was a place forgotten to time where we bought Napoleons all the time and I loved them. These are even better and a good value at under $4 for a large piece.

A surprise discovery and the best value, is the Chaja. It is presented here a ball form of a traditional Uruguayan treat. I did not know what to expect when I bit into this ball but I was pleasantly surprised to consume a base that tasted like a fusion of cake and cookie with a dulce de leche center in the middle.

On my first visit I saw a sign for a Friday only Argentine Grill special. Having missed the consumption opportunity on my first two visits I figured the key to this experience is to pre-order the limited number prepared for the day. This special includes a grilled sausage, an expertly grilled cut of steak, a flavor-filled chimichurri sauce with a standard salad as well as a potato, carrot and pea salad. I enjoyed this dish but given the effort it took me to get it, I would be content to trade it for six empanadas.

I tried a small amount of the fried chicken because I was full of empanadas and eclairs. I decided to give the rest to my official fried chicken canary in the coal mine tester/expert. Some readers may be familiar with the Grumpy Old Man who is sometimes “forced” to go on my out of town missions to Southeast Ohio during and after which he complains about all the food I make him eat and the negative effects that high ABV beers have on his constitution and marriage. The Grumpy Old Man just happens to be a self-proclaimed Chicken Whore. His immediate diagnosis was that this was a fine representation of south of the border fried chicken. His endorsement was confirmed by his trip to Cakes and More for more fried chicken a few days later. His Puerto Rican wife found the fried chicken to be acceptable, which is a strong indicator of quality. Few things or people meet her standards so an acceptable opinion is a pretty big deal and a potential get out of jail card for his next offense.

Last but not least, one of the sandwich options is the Chivito. This combines thinly sliced and well grilled beef (churrasco), ham, bacon, cheese, boiled egg, sweet pickled red peppers, Heart of Palm, mayo, lettuce and tomato on fresh bread. If after reading that combination of ingredients your thought was “that sounds great”, you thought right. This sandwich has origins in Uruguay and I have not found it elsewhere in Ohio throughout my many travels.

As for the cakes, I have not tried any yet, but they all look good. As you have read, Cakes and More has much more that cakes. Here you can have your cake and eat more too.

Cakes and More Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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All That and…..a Bag of Chips! (Putting Sandwich Week in the Bag)

Posted by cmh gourmand on August 13, 2017

Well, that wraps up Sandwich week. As I was doing my sandwich sleuthing a few trends started to surface. One involved what some view as the lowly potato chip. Not so low in my book, in fact, I started to see them as a last hold out of a dying localized food culture. I noticed bags of chips in many varieties at any of the diners and dives I was eating these regional sandwiches at. More often than not the branding was unfamiliar to me. However as I started reading the labels and sleuthing their origins I noticed that these under the radar chips were often made not so far away from the epicenter of these regional sandwiches, if you drove 25 miles in an opposite direction you were just as likely to get a puzzled look asking about a Horseshoe Sandwich as you were about _________ Potato Chips. These two food trends travel back several generations before the ubiquitousness of food programing, the Internet and the homogenization of local and regional food cultures creating an affinity for boring and bland national brands. Every small town had a dairy, a brewery, a bread factory and a potato chip maker. That started to change in the 1980’s with the blitzkrieg like growth of Frito-Lay but even today we see embedded, splinter cells of regional potato chip lines, especially in my home state of Ohio. I grew up with Buckeye Potato chips, which has since crumbled away, but there are still many regional potato chip brands within Ohio and many loyal fans that swear by their chip from the old block. Here are a few examples:

Ballreich’s Potato Chips – Tiffin
Conns Potato Chips – Zanesville
Jones Potato Chip Company – Mansfield
Mike-Sell’s – Dayton
Shearer’s – Canton

Grippos – Cincinnati

Gold N Crisp – Massillion

Why so many potato chip factories in Ohio (2nd in the country for production). Part of that answer is due to our waistlines but the rest is history. Potato chips have been pleasing our palates for the past 150 years.

America’s love affair with this tantalizing treat began in the summer of 1853 when a patron of Moon’s Lake House on Saratoga Lake in New York sent his fried potatoes back complaining they were too thick. Cook George Crum sliced up more potatoes paper-thin and fried them to a crisp. They became a hit with the patrons and became known as “ Saratoga Chips.”

The recipe soon spread to other restaurants along the East Coast, but in 1895, William Tappendon of Cleveland, began making chips in his kitchen and delivering them to neighborhood stores. He later converted a barn to manufacture the snack and is credited as the first potato chip retailer in the country.

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The (Louisville) ((Kentucky)) Hot Brown (Sandwich Week)

Posted by cmh gourmand on August 10, 2017

The 1920’s was a very different time than today. Hotels were cultural hubs typically not only providing the best food in their home cities but the best entertainment. Such was the case for the storied Brown Hotel in Louisville Kentucky. During the Roaring 20’s the Brown was THE place to be featuring 600 rooms in 16 stories. The hotel offered nightly dance parties for up to 1200 guests that often continued well past the last evening so exhausted revelers often needed a hearty late night snack to recharge while resting up their tired dogs. The hotel’s chef, Fred K. Schmidt, created the Hot Brown in 1926 to fill up these guests so they could go home or go to bed. The sandwich became so popular that it was added to the daytime menu and at one time it was the menu choice of up to 95% of diners. The popularity of the sandwich soon found others spread throughout the city and the state.

A Hot Brown is an open-faced sandwich consisting of the following: a layer of bread, sliced turkey, bacon and then covered in Mornay sauce (a white sauce made with butter, flour, milk shredded or grated Gruyère cheese). By report a bit of Parmesan cheese is sprinkled on. This is baked or broiled until browned and ideally a bit of crisping occurs where the cheese meets the plate. When the sandwich is ready to serve it is topped with tomatoes and pimento.

A spin-off version of the sandwich was also created at the hotel and was called the cold brown. The cold version consists of baked chicken or turkey, hard-boiled egg, lettuce and tomato served open-faced on rye bread then covered with Thousand Island dressing. There are two cousins to this sandwich: The Prosperity sandwich in St. Louis and the Devonshire in Pittsburgh.

If one is only going to have one Hot Brown, then the only choice is to eat it where it was originated, at the Brown Hotel in downtown Louisville. It is still a favorite although today, it is not quite 95% of the dinner service tickets like the good old days.

Of significant note and in my opinion, a mandatory pairing, is another Louisville icon, Derby Pie. The pie is a perfect combination of chocolate chips, walnuts and pie dough that is trademarked by Kern’s Kitchen. No one else can legally make or serve Derby Pie without violating the trademark. My pie had the word Derby Pie stamped into the pie crust ring to show it was authentic.

Now, if you decided you are going to have at least two Hot Browns in your life, then there is (was) only one place to go, Lynn’s Paradise Cafe. (Update: sadly the cafe closed in 2013 so I’ve cut out most of my paragraphs on that so as to not be overly cruel). I’ll just say that the photo at the top of this post was one of their Hot Brown’s and it was truly an exceptional sandwich.

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The Horseshoe Sandwich, Springfield IL (Sandwich Week)

Posted by cmh gourmand on August 8, 2017

Springfield, Illinois is nationally known as the home of Abe Lincoln. Although virtually unknown outside a one hour driving radius of the Illinois capital, locals are almost as proud of their other hometown hero – the Horseshoe sandwich. The Horseshoe is the house sandwich of Springfield with many restaurants offering some version of what is often referred to as a “heart attack on a plate”.

Local lore generally places the birth of the Horseshoe at the Leland Hotel (closed in the 1970’s) in 1928. A few sources name other spots, among them the (Wayne’s) Red Coach Inn, as the originator. The original horseshoe was an open faced sandwich consisting of two slices of thick, toasted bread with ham placed on top of each piece, a pile of fries with the whole heap drenched in cheese sauce. The sauce is typically a closely guarded secret and varies from place to place but most published recipes use a variation of Welsh rarebit sauce. Typical ingredients in the sauce include beer, egg yolks, butter, Worcestershire sauce, cheddar cheese and a combination of spices. Horseshoe history decrees that the original sandwich used ham steak, which looked like a horseshoe after it was cooked. The French fries are supposed to represent horseshoe nails. The plate is an anvil and slices of bead represent hoofs. Today, there are many variations in the meat part of the sandwich and a few restaurants even pony up an occasional vegetarian version. If you want to be more health conscious order a ponyshoe, which is half of a horseshoe.

D’arcy’s Pint
661 W. Stanford Ave.
Springfield, IL
217-492-8800
(Closed on Sunday)

D’arcy’s Pint is consistently the local favorite for Horseshoes. This family friendly Irish themed bar / restaurant has only been around since 1998 and moved to it’s new, bigger location in May of 2005. D’Arcy’s serves up over a dozen varieties of shoes. The base sandwich is two pieces of Texas Toast; with meat placed on each slice served with either a traditional or spicy white cheese sauce and what seems like a pound of crinkle cut fries. Meat choices include corned beef, walleye, Italian sausage, and breaded pork tenderloin. The customer favorite is the Buffalo Chicken Horseshoe which is served with a side of hot sauce and blue cheese dressing. If someone in your party is afraid of ordering a pint (horsehoe) or half-pint (pony shoe), the menu also features traditional Irish favorites, bar food, and other famous sandwiches including breaded pork tenderloins, Muffalettas, New York style corned beef and Reubens.

Norb Andy’s Tabarin (actual spelling)
518 East Capitol Ave.
Springfield, Illinois 62701-1814
Phone: (217) 523-7777

There is a lot of history at Norb Andy’s. The building has been around since 1837 and it is on the national register of historic places. The name of this tavern is derived from the name of the man that owned it from 1937 to 1979 – Norbert Anderson. Norb Andy’s is a dark, cozy bar with nautical themed décor that is within easy walking distance of the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum and most downtown sights. If you get lucky, you might even get a parking spot at one of the meters out front. Norb’s has eight varieties of “shoes” including Italian Beef and Seafood (shrimp and crab). Most customers order the horseshoe with hamburger patties, which is the baseline horseshoe in town. An insider tip from the bar staff – the bathroom is up front. Virtually everyone wanders off looking for it in the rear of Norb Andy’s only to find a small dining nook with a few tables and several portraits of famous ships of the 18th century.

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The Chicago Italian Beef Sandwich (Sandwich Week)

Posted by cmh gourmand on August 7, 2017

Italian Beef

(Disclaimer: This was written in 2005 and 2006 so some site info many no longer be accurate)

Chicago is a food lover’s town offering three homegrown culinary inventions – Deep Dish Pizza, Chicago Style Dogs and the third (and least traveled) of the triumvirate – the Italian Beef Sandwich. Few people have heard of this Chicago cultural icon outside of the Windy City metro area, – but once you get a big, wet, messy bite of this sandwich – you are hooked.

The history of the sandwich is about as clear as the juice the beef swims in. You won’t find this sandwich in Italy; most people agree the sandwich evolved in the Italian neighborhoods of Chicago in the 1930’s. A place called Al’s on Taylor Street has been around since 1938. Other local lore implies the origin of Italian Beef at a place called Maxwell’s. The popular sandwich rapidly populated Chicago’s neighborhoods with beef stands in the late 1940’s. Today the signature sandwich is served up at hundreds of places from old mom and pop stands to new fangled franchises.

The building blocks of the Italian Beef are:
Bun – a Chicago style French roll – crusty on the outside – soft on the inside
the beef – thinly sliced and cut against the grain
the juice/sauce – a highly seasoned au jus with slight variations depending on the establishment but usually including some combination of garlic, salt, pepper, oregano, basil, red pepper flakes, and other herbs and spices
and the toppings – typically sweet peppers or Giardiniera (Jar Din Era). You can get cheese at a few places but for most Chicagoans that is like putting ketchup on a Chicago dog – you just don’t do it.

Before ordering a Beef – you need to know what to ask for. Each choice is critical and needs to be made before you approach the counter.

First decision – Dry or Wet. A wet sandwich will have the roll dipped in the juice as well. A dry sandwich will have what escapes the meat or a little extra juice the sandwich maker ladles in with the meat.

Second decision – Sweet or Hot? Sweet will get you roasted green bell peppers. Hot will typically give you Hot (Spicy) Giardiniera relish – the typical combination includes cut up cauliflower, celery, jalapeno and/or sport peppers, carrots, and spices (the recipe for this relish varies from place to place).

Third Decision – can you get a combo? The Combo sandwich adds Italian sausage to the Italian beef – can you say coronary disease!!!

Fourth decision – can you get “red Gravy/sauce? A few places offer a red sauce for the beef – this is basically spaghetti sauce – but this is rare and not favored by many Italian Beef aficionados.

Fifth decision – “ya want fries with that?”

Pat Bruno and Dennis Foley, famed food writers and known Beef eaters describe the Chicago Lean. An Italian Beef Veteran will often eat this sandwich standing up with the torso leaning forward or at least maneuvering the tail end of the sandwich to a strategic angle to avoid the drippings of the sandwich. Any strategy that avoids loosing the slightest bit of sandwich while protecting ones clothing is preferred. Some of the better beef stands invest a little extra in a thicker grade of wax paper to wrap the sandwich in – but even this will not guarantee keeping the sauce off your shirt.

Many of the places get their beef from Scala Beef – which has a great reputation in town. Most of the rolls are from Gonnella Baking Co. or Turano Baking Company – also highly thought of companies. It is not uncommon to see giardiniera served out of a large glass jar from one of several local purveyors. Considering all these commonalities – what separates one beef from another – quite a bit. Beef fans will scrutinize every detail such as how the sirloin is cut – too thin or too thick and how each place handles their beef from first cut to the last. Seasoning and toppings are critical too and always noticed by anyone that has been to more than a couple beef stands. Even small touches such as how the rolls are stored and whether or not the Giardiniera is self serve can be crucial factors.

My Chicago beef guide – who I will call Mac the Knife for safety purposes – said this after one place – “they say you can’t screw up an Italian Beef – well you can and _______ did!!” So to make sure your first experience is a good one – here are some places that consistently do everything right.


Looking for beefs around Chicago – you will hear the name Al mentioned more than once. The problem is there is more than one Al’s, so where do you go first – I will help you sort out A Tale of Two Al’s.

Al’s #1 Italian Beef
What does the phone book say: Al’s #1 Italian Beef

Locations: Over 10
Most convenient location:
169 West. Ontario
(312) 943-3222

Open since:
The Franchise started in 2001. But the Ontario Al’s does have common ancestry with the Taylor St. Al’s. This location has been around for several years.

Beef is cut and cooked in house: Yes

What you need to know. The Ontario location is within a baseball toss of Ed Debevic’s, Carson’s Ribs, Gino’s East Pizza and a Portillos – so you can cover all of your Chicago food needs on foot.

Getting there on the EL / Subway:
Brown Line to Chicago or Merchandise Mart

Can you get a beef on Sunday:
Yes

Inside seating:
Yes


or you could go to…..

Al’s #1 Italian Beef

What the phone book says: Al’s Bar-B-Q

Location(s): one
1079 West Taylor St
(312) 226-4017

Open since:
1938

Beef is cut and cooked in house:
Yes

What you need to know:
Mario’s Italian Ice shop, which is among the best in Chicago, is across the street. This Al’s has been listed in nearly every article written about Italian Beef. Little Italy is a great neighborhood for food lovers to stroll around.

Getting there on the EL (subway):
Blue Line to UIC-Halsted

Can you get a beef on a Sunday:
No

Inside Seating:
No – but there is room to do a Chicago lean inside and a few picnic tables outside.


more places to try:

Carm’s Beef
1801 S. Wolf Road,
Hillside, IL
708 449-0125

Any second or third generation Italian Beef eater will probably pause for a minute and smile when you mention Carm’s. Many years ago, there were four locations. The original and favorite was on Cicero Avenue. Today, just the Hillside location remains. Joe Mantenga seems to love the place – he has two autographed photos inside. This Carm’s serves much more than Italian Beef but it keeps the family recipes and legend alive with the most appealing looking Italian Beef sandwich in town.

Carm’s Italian Beef
1057 W. Polk St.
312-738-1046

The Little Italy Carm’s is no relation to the Hillside Carm’s. This location opened in 1926 as a grocery store called Fontano’s. In the 1960’s the store moved across the street and this location started specializing in sandwiches and Italian Ices. The DeVille family knows many of their customers – people from the neighborhood and nearby University of Illinois at Chicago students. I lady at the counter asked me “who would want to read about Italian Beefs?” This book is the answer.

Boston’s Bar-B-Q
2932 W Chicago Ave (Corner of Grand and Chicago)
Chicago, IL
312 486 9536
(Closed Sunday)
Boston’s started out as a bar in 1949 but switched over to a Beef place as their sandwiches gained more renown. This place is a little out of the way in an industrial section of Chicago but is worth the trip – at least in the daytime. Over the years, Boston’s has been consistently listed as a top place when Chicagoans rave about the best Beefs in town. This beef stand is also highly frequented by the Chicago police and other public servants, which is a solid endorsement for any type of food. Beef eaters will also find a Godfather movie poster hanging on the wall – although not scientifically proven, this type of décor typically has a high correlation with good Italian Beef. If you have not had a combo sandwich – this is one the best places to do so.

Chickies
2839 S Pulaski Rd
Chicago, IL
312 762 2333 (BEEF)

Chickie’s is a classic Chicago Italian Beef Stand that blends into its working class neighborhood. The inside is standing room only but there are two picnic tables outside. The beef is strongly seasoned. The Giardiniera is homemade with a lot of large slices of celery mixed in with the spicy blend. The place has been around since 1962 and is a lunchtime favorite for nearby office and factory workers.

Duke’s Drive In

8115 S Harlem Ave
Oak Lawn, IL
708 599-0576
http://www.dukesitalianbeef.com/

Duke’s is kind of the new kid of the Italian Beef block. This south side establishment has been serving Italian Beef sandwiches since 1975. Duke’s is a quintessential drive-in, which makes it a favorite of truckers and classic car enthusiasts. Although some places have received higher rating for sandwiches – for the Chicago gull population Duke’s is the hands down favorite. Not even the multiple signs posted that state feeding the bird is against city statutes will keep these feathered French Fry eaters way.

Johnnie’s Beef
7500 W North Ave
Elmwood Park, IL
708 452 6000
(Second location –
1935 S ARLINGTON HEIGHTS RD
ARLINGTON HTS, IL 60005-4017
847-357-8100
(Closed Sunday)

Really good beef can be found outside the Chicago Loop and Johnnie’s Beef is worth the trip to the burbs to prove it. Expect to find a line of customers when you pull in this drive in’s driveway. Don’t let the sight of people queued up outside the door deter you – this place moves people through quickly because the guys at the counter are efficient order takers – much like the Soup Nazi in Seinfeld. If you forget to order your fries or the type of peppers you want because you panicked then you can drown your sorrows in one of the best Italian Ices this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Max’s Italian Beef
5754 N Western Ave (near Hollywood Ave.)
Chicago, IL 60659-5114  
(773) 989-8200
(Closed Sunday)

The Estes family takes their business seriously – they post their home and work phone numbers on the wall so you can call them if something is not to your satisfaction. The stand has been around since 1957 and you can see a leftover wooden sign from the day that Beefs were well under a dollar. Today, the place has four tables and counter seating that rings the inside with plenty of TV’s for watching local sporting events. Max’s offers self-serve, spicy Giardiniera and a giant menu including their famous Ghetto Fries (BBQ sauce or gravy, Onions, Giardiniera, and a lot of melted cheese). When they dip a Beef at Max’s it comes out really wet – so be ready.

Patio
1503 W. Taylor St.
Chicago, IL 60607
312 829 0454
The Patio has been around for over 50 years with the last 23 at this location in the heart of Little Italy (http://www.littleitalychicago.com). There is no patio at the Patio (that was at the original location) but there is one of the least expensive Italian Beef sandwiches in town. As a bonus they wrap their sandwich a high-grade wax paper (extra protection for beef greenhorns) that is more resilient than what other places use. The friendly counter staff will make you feel at home in this cozy spot that seats about ten.

Pop’s Italian Beef & Sausage
7153 W 127TH St
Palos Heights, IL
773 239 1243

14279 Wolf Rd.
Orland Park, IL 60467-1932
708 403-9070
10337 S. Kedzie Ave.,
Chicago, IL
773 239-1243
18328 Governors Highway
Homewood, IL
708 647-9999

Even though Pop’s family of restaurants has grown – the friendly service helps retain the feel of a Mom and Pop establishment. Pop’s has one of the best cost to beef ratios of any Italian beef purveyor, they do not hold back on the beef in their sandwiches. As for toppings, this small chain has the best self-serve hot giardiniera in town. This is a good place to come if you need a place to sit down since there is some seating available.

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Palmers Beverage Center: Wine Wednesdays & 10 for 10 Tastings

Posted by cmh gourmand on June 4, 2017

Palmers Sign

Palmers Beverage Center has a long history in the Clintonville community. When wine first hit big in the Midwest during the 1970’s, Palmers was a go to spot for any wine enthusiast in or out of the area. Palmer’s still offers some hidden gems today. Before craft beer was cool, Palmer’s was a destination for beer too. Things have changed a lot over the decades. In the present the competition in Clintonville is intense with numerous new beer based businesses throughout the area. At one time, a few years ago, the community worried if Palmers would sustain, after the loss of an elder/senior family member in this small family operated business. So far it has, but with a lot of hard work and by my guess many pro bono hours from the family.

Today Palmers is still known for a few distinctive traits. Interesting phrases on their sign marquee, Pinky the Bulldog, the in-house customer relations specialist and a knack for often having a harder to find beer or wine. Here are a few other things you might know about Palmer’s. The original location was across the street at the present location of the Wild Flower Cafe (a Clintonville history factoid, the same building was also home to Clintonville Academy for two years). Palmer’s moved to the Oakland Park location because they needed more room to make bottle storage. Until the late 1970’s, bottle deposits existed in Ohio so customers could bring back bottles to get a deposit returned for each bottle. Palmer’s needed the basement storage space of their current space the manage the volume of recycling the area brought in. Today, that basement houses a pretty amazing private wine collection I could only dream about.

Pinky at Palmers

Palmer’s offers Wine Wednesdays every Wednesday from 6 to 8 pm. Four different wines are sampled, with some very tasty snacks. A few hard-core regulars have taken it upon themselves to supplement these snacks with more gourmet goodies. On the honor system, you drop a buck or two in the tip jar and all is well. Emily runs these tastings and she offers a good amount of knowledge with each wine she serves. I first met her when we were both wine judges for the (now defunct) Columbus Food & Wine Affair so I know she knows her wine basics.

Once per month, on the second Wednesday of the month, Wine Wednesday gets an upgrade (like Business to First Class) as host for a Columbus 10 for 10 Tasting. These are hosted by Landon Proctor, a very knowledgeable Vinophile. This is a safe place for all with an interest in wine because Landon does not quietly suffer wine snobs. The concept is simple, he offers ten samples of ten wines for ten bucks. He knows the ins and outs of each pour. He also sometimes brings a wine maker with him. Since this is Palmer’s, the same group of hard-core regulars often bring along some extra snacks to enjoy. These tastings run from 7 to 9 pm.

10 for 10 Tasting at Palmers

Food at Palmers Beverage Tastings

No matter which Wednesday you pick, you will have the opportunity to taste new wines in a comfortable atmosphere while you enjoy yourself and support a small business at the same time.

Palmer’s Beverage Center
Southwest Corner of Indianola and Oakland Park Ave.
(One block north of East North Broadway).

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