CMH Gourmand

Eat, Drink, Repeat: Culinary Discovery & Misadventure in Central Ohio

  • Recent Comments

    cmh gourmand on A Wistful Wendy’s Eulogy…
    The Reinvention of N… on The Chicken Corner of Columbus…
    thebreakfastgrubguy on A Wistful Wendy’s Eulogy…
    Gerald Martin on Lisska Bar and Grill: Crossed…
    cmh gourmand on Columbus Pizza History: A Slic…
    Marcia Gordon on Columbus Pizza History: A Slic…
    AlohaJo on A Decade of Dining, Discussion…
  • Categories

  • Top Posts

  • Archives: August 2006 to Now

Archive for the ‘Gastronomic Stimulus’ Category

Finlandia Butter and Cheese? Oh, Yes Please

Posted by cmh gourmand on June 29, 2016

The story begins with (in part) this e-mail:

Happy National Dairy Month! I’m writing with a delicious opportunity for you to taste some of the best cheese and butter on Earth, and show off your baking and cooking skills.

Finlandia Cheese—a company that has been crafting great-tasting cheese and butter for more than a century—is a fan of your blog and asked me to reach out with a special Dairy Delight Kit for you, featuring yummy cheese, the best butter you’ve ever tasted, and some handy kitchen items.

IMG_4836

I did not receive the handy kitchen items but I did receive plenty of butter (salted and unsalted) and some Swiss Cheese. I discussed options with CMH Wife and we decided some of the butter and cheese would be a great opportunity to show off a new serving tray we received from a friend and introduce CMH Griffin to a simple summer meal of Swiss Cheese (his first Swiss) and a bit of salted and unsalted butter in a head to head taste off.

IMG_4870

IMG_4871

IMG_4873

The verdict, just like his dad, CMH Griffin is a huge fan of cheese. As for butter no indication was made as to if salted or unsalted was preferred.

Finlandia on Facebook

Finlandia Cheese Locator

Posted in cheese, Gastronomic Stimulus | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

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

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 4, 2016

IMG_4331

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

Let us open the sacks and see what we find.

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

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

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

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

IMG_4333

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

IMG_4334

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

IMG_4335

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.

IMG_4337

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

Posted in culinary knowledge, culinary misadventure, Food For Thought, Gastronomic Stimulus | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

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

IMG_4175

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.

IMG_4180

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.

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

A Deal, a Shill and an Appeal

Posted by cmh gourmand on March 7, 2014

DealDeck

We begin with the deal. It is the Dine Originals Deck. For $20 you get 52 cards, each with a pretty good deal. Most of the deals are $10 off a certain dollar amount of food purchased. So, if you use two cards, you get your money back. Anything over is saving you money. There are a few non restaurant deals, one is a buy one get one free tour of Watershed Distillery. It is a bargain at full price so well worth consideration. Reviewing the deals in the rest of the deck the best offers are from Basi Italia, Bodega, Columbus Brewing Company Restaurant (Brunch only), Deepwood, Katalina’s, Pistacia Vera and The Top. So doing some quick math, I will probably save at least $50. Get the deck.


And now, the shill…….

In seven plus years of CMH Gourmand, I have been pretty hardcore about NOT shilling. I receive about one offer per week from someone asking me to hawk their wares, try out their restaurant, link their product to the website, etc. In 99% of the instances I say no thank you. On occasion I have accepted an offer for a meal or a product I already believe in and when I do, I disclose so in the post.

In the case of E-bates, I was not approached at all. Well not really. Mrs. (soon to be) Gourmand hooked me up with E-bates shortly after we hooked up. The concept is pretty straightforward. You sign up with E-bates and use their site as a portal for the other online shopping you do. So when I shop at L.L.Bean, Amazon, Kohl’s, Lowe’s, Peets Coffee, Ghirardelli, etc. I can expect to get 2 to 4% of the purchase price back and sometimes more.

As a person who freely self admits that there is at least a 50% chance that my obituary will read “was struck by a car while bending down to pick up a penny” my Scottish heritage kicks in hard when a deal is to be had. As Mrs. to be Gourmand and I often say, “only a sucker pays full price”. Well I say that and she rolls her eyes in agreement. Since I do most of my shopping online the cash back accumulates quickly and can be paid to me by check or paypal.

So why I am sharing this other than the fact it is a good deal and only loosely food related? Well, Mr. Gourmand is saving up for a honeymoon to Italy and a new house in Old Worthington or Clintonville. Any referral I make for E-bates puts $15 in my savings account and saves you money. And any referral you make….puts money in your pocket. Bazinga!

Click the link below to make a donation to a worthy cause – extensive gelato research in Italy and extensive home improvement in central Ohio.

Show Gourmand the Money


And now the appeal.

I am listed as a candidate for best blog in the community for 614 Magazine’s ColumBest. It may be debatable if my blog is the best but it is one of the oldest. So I humbly ask for your consideration in the voting process. I would like to place third this year. You can vote -> HERE.

I’m CMH Gourmand and I thank you for your support.

Posted in Gastronomic Stimulus | 1 Comment »

Brewed Awakening

Posted by cmh gourmand on October 7, 2013

So what have I been up to you might ask? Well, I moved back to a buzz cut, finally conceding that I have more head than hair now. I neglected to mention that I won a Vendy Award and last and very much not least have you heard about Columbus Brew Adventures.

Brewed awakenings

I have often immersed myself in a subject to learn more about it. I became fascinated with Australia so I got myself there six times for a total of 4 1/2 months, visited all the states and territories and make several lifelong friends in the process. Then I wanted to get a job at OCLC and improve my research skills for writing so I earned a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science….well, I did become a better researcher. And as you readers know, a few other things caught my attention: donuts, pizza, Food Trucks and such.

And now…..Beer and Business.

Partnering with (and learning a lot, every day) Bethia and Andy from Columbus Food Adventures we have been working on and since September 7th running beer tours. There have been countless meetings with brewers throughout the area. Even more e-mails and phone calls. There has been a good amount of time “product” testing as well. The brewing community is a great group of people – passionate about their craft and growing a craft beer culture in our city. I am honored to be able to work with these business owners and immersing myself into their culture. I am learning about more beer and myself every day.

Our downtown brewery tour has been very popular. We explore four breweries and even through I have done my research, I learn something new from each place we visit and each brewer we work with every time I guide a tour. We have also run a tour out to Licking County to visit Brews Cafe, Granville Brewing, Homestead Beer Company and Buckeye Lake Brewery. We made a run to Rockmill Brewery, Dancing Tree Distillery and Jackie O’s in Athens. As fun as that tour was, I was amazed that a couple drove in from Dayton to join us for a multiple hour tour and then drive back home. We are adding more tours this month to explore the breweries of Grandview and our local distilleries. Other ideas are fermenting as well. Pizza and Beer sound good? Maybe a progressive tour of a league of restaurants?

And of course, our tours include food to go with the beer. As you can guess, we take that part of the tour pretty seriously too. As for our beer tourists, each group has been fun to guide around. From craft beer neophytes, to home brewers and beer experts everyone has enjoyed the tours, tried beers they might not have tried before and even at places they might have visited on their own, taken something away they would not have without being on the tour. We learn something at each brewery be it history, how ingredients influence the brewing process, or sampling a beer flight that showcases twenty years of microbrewing in Columbus. In every case, I guests leave wanting to explore even more and go back to try these places again.

In the process I have learned to drive a 14 passenger van, initially felt like a freshman at Food Tour University, lost the company cell phone (which was one of the top 13 worst days of my life), and every day found myself nudged further out of my comfort zone. While learning I have found that there is so much more to learn, I guess that makes sense, beer has been around since the 5th century BC. I knew a good deal about beer before I walked down this road. Now that I jumped into the brewing culture of Columbus I find myself in the catbird seat observing something I believe is going to become a big part of the character of Columbus, a craft beer and distilling culture that will earn a lot respect in the industry. Columbus Brew Adventures is exactly that, an adventure. Care to join us on one?

Posted in beer, Behind the Counter, beverages, cocktails, Food For Thought, Gastronomic Stimulus | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

The Crest Gastropub Makes the Grade

Posted by cmh gourmand on July 13, 2013

outside

About two months ago, the night before I dined at the Crest Gastropub for the first time, I had a quick meeting with a well-known Clintonville Curmudgeon. We sat at O’Reilly’s as I shared that I had tried to get into the Crest but it was too crowded. To which he said (at least the gist, I was not taking notes), “Yeah, the place is OK, but it does not deserve to bear the name of the Crest.” “That place is just the shell of the building, everything else is different”. I could feel the pangs of nostalgia in his words. Unfortunately I could not share his feelings, I never connected with the Crest in my visits there. It always seemed like a place that could be much more than it was with little effort. I know from oral history there were many high points and a great community within those walls in the decades it was open but I never viewed the place as an asset to the community or I place I would want to go. (Pauses….waiting for the outraged comments to come).

When new owners took over there was a lot of excitement about Gastropub. Advance renderings were shared with the public, there was plenty of information shared about the food, the beer list and the plans to use lots of local, organic goodness throughout. Although some were concerned I was being a hater, I merely disagreed with one aspect of their marketing. I drove by daily watching the progress. After the Gastropub opened I drove by at night to see the place packed. That makes me happy.

parking

One my first visit, the past and the present intermingled again. As I was finishing my meal a late 50’s chronic alcoholic couple walked into the Crest and joined me at the bar. They admitted they were already drunk and acted accordingly. They both had the emaciated look and smell of deepwoods methheads. The couple was intent on loudly sharing their stories of their 42 years of patronage of the former Crest. They knew one set of past owners, admired the work that has been done on the place, asked how the rehab went as far as dodging around the old Edison era wiring and etc. They generally annoyed the undying shit out of me. The purpose of their trip seemed to be to sniff out the place, get a quick shot (of booze) and offer some suggestions on improving the parking woes. Their rightfully true observation was….this place is not the Crest. No siree. As the Clintonville Curmudgeon had stated the day before, “this is the Crest in name only”. (Please note, I am not typing to typecast former Crest patrons just showing that yes….things have changed). I will also note the staff handled these potential customers and definitely lifetime neighbors very well and professionally. Even though some have commended my own patience, I would have been hard pressed to endure these two professional drinkers for any size tip or any length of time.

bar

The building was gutted and rumor has it nearly one million dollars was invested in the building to make it something that is absolutely not the old Crest Tavern and very definitely a Gastropub in look, feel, decor and mission. The interior is full of recycled, repurposed and re-imagined items. Other than the exposed bricks in the walls and few critical structural pieces, I doubt much of the former Crest remains. RIP The Crest. All Hail The Crest Gastropub.

The place received a lot of attention in the early weeks. A little too much attention in my opinion. You can’t judge a book by its cover and you can’t critique a new restaurant based on what they can or can’t do in the first week of operation. For a place like this – with all of the pre-opening expectations and the ongoing love affair with the place and space – multiple trips over time were warranted.

Let me run through my observations, my meals and why I believe The Crest Gastropub makes the grade.

The beer and spirits menu is deeply stocked full of local and Ohio craft beverages. In my visits I have counted 15 – 20 at any given time. The beverage list changes…. a lot. That can be frustrating to some and on occasion, I have had my heart set on having one beverage only to find it was gone. However in the world of multiple taps (60 here) – beer than moves fast stays fresh and tastes better. Also, that means the Crest is probably making money, that helps with sustainability. When you have just dropped a giant wad of cash on a business…..sustainable profit is great. You can be idealistic later after you pay the bills. In addition to a host of buckeye brewed beers the menu features local favorites likes Brothers Drake, Middlewest Spirits and Watershed Vodka. You will find a few wines on the list as well. Cheers!

Speaking of the bar, it looks good. It looks inviting, it looks…..expensive. The bar top is copper-topped. The chairs are sturdy and comfortable. There are six 32 inch television screens mounted near the ceiling, so there is enough to support people who want to watch a game but not so many that it feels like a sports bar. To counter balance the TV’s – there are purse hooks strategically mounted at knee level at bar side. Purse hooks are important, all of my female friends tell me so. As for the rest of the decor, the bathrooms look great – small but functional with lots of tile. They (well at least the men’s room) have the look of a 1930’s tavern in the heart of Chicago or London. The inside dining area is a mix of high-backed booths, high topped tables and lower placed four tops. There are plenty of seating styles and arrangement to meet the needs of the solo gourmand, the party of seven or the family of three. All of the spaces are filled with items such as windows from a former school, wood from a barn and so on, creating a place that while just a few months old has a character of an establishment much older. The patio is perpetually filled and covered with plenty of umbrellas for protection from the elements. On the outside there is a bike rack (which seems continually full) to comfort bike enthusiasts and Millennial hipsters alike. So The Crest Gastropub may sound busy to readers and let me assure it is….to the point where the neighbors have grown a bit irked by the lack of easy parking access in front of their homes. The owners have made an effort to be good neighbors to their neighbors by asking guests not to park on certain streets near the business.

bikesmeanshipster

Some of you, maybe several of you, wince at the term gastropub. And according to the traditional definition of a gastropub the Crest….fits the mold. The menu is varied with choices suited from brunch, lunch, dinner or bar snacks. The ingredients are simple. Presentation is upscale. The end result are selections that are very good most of the time. Two items I would like to highlight are the Ohio Cheeseboard (with jams and nuts) and the Brezel Pretzels…with a twist (insert groan).

goat cheese

burger and fries

The Crest Gastropub makes an effort to source locally as often as practical which is reflected and showcased on some menu items. They do have a roof top garden, as well as a patio and parking lot community garden so they have put their money as well as a lot of soil as well as a parking space or two where their mouth is. Some of those garden greens are starting to make their way onto plates now. More than just a gimmick, the gardens add to the character of the business and the aesthetics of the exterior. Throw in some rain barrels and a ladder that leads to the rooftop garden (not sure how sustainable that aspect is) and they have added quite a bit of green to urban Clintonville.

menu

The kitchen is on the smaller side but it packs a punch. The menu is reasonable in size but limits choices to one page which is a good idea for any restaurant but especially a tavern with limited cooking capacity. The best and most consistent bets will be the burger selections. The honey-glazed cheese balls (that would be with flash fried goat cheese) are my consistent starter of choice. The only main menu item I have been disappointed in so far was the grilled cheese. The grilledness (my own invented word) of the bread and how the varied ingredients comingle do not quite mix together.

gardenJPG

There are two things I can’t reconcile about the Crest Gastropub. It is really hard not to say….The Crest instead of the proper name of The Crest Gastropub. I am not sure how to resolve that. Three words is too much but just saying The Crest seems to be tempting the ghosts of the bar of the past and hurting the feelings of the Clintonville Curmudgeon. The second aspect of the Crest Gastropub I have a hard time abiding is the serving of most items on wooden cutting boards. It looks kind of cool but it is not practical, is probably a bitch to clean all of those and just too bulky on the tables. I have not been back in a while so maybe those were 86’d. Another note, service has been a bit spotty (especially if you read Yelp) but I would expect that for new staff in a new place and when I had less than ideal service I always felt the server was trying to the best of their ability. Overall a very promising start for a place I think will continue to improve and refine over time.

2855 Indianola Ave
Clintonville
614.261.7128
FB: TheCrestGastropub

The Crest Gastropub on Urbanspoon

Posted in bar, Clintonville, Gastronomic Stimulus, Locally Sourced, restaurants | Tagged: , , | 7 Comments »

Profiles in Food: Mikegyver!

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 28, 2013

If there is something wrong in your food truck world, who you gonna call? MikeGyver!

Who is this Mikegyver and why he is respected more than Chuck Norris and MacGyver combined? Read on.

MikeguyverJPG

Mikegyver, aka Tyvek, Metal Mike and Bearded Mike is known in other parts of the world as Mike Lauletta. He first came to the attention of the mobile food community while picking up some hours at Dinin’ Hall where he was known as Dinin’ Hall Mike. This was a convenient gig for him because he uses studio space at 400 West Rich so in between creating metal works, crafting Rube Goldberg style devices and working on various artistic outreach projects, he could hop over to Dinin’ Hall to help out and make a bit of spending money.

I interviewed Mike to find out how he became a mobile food icon.

“I got my start on a food truck from Laura Lee, chef/owner of Ajumama. We met at Dinin’ Hall and she needed some part-time help on her truck. I have a lot of experience cooking in restaurants, everything from steak houses to authentic Louisiana Creole.” After working on Ajumama, Mike started to work with other food trucks based at The Food Fort including OH! Burgers and That Food Truck. In addition to cooking and working the window, Mike has also helped clean out trucks, repaired damaged equipment and assisted with updates and modifications to design. In between that, he also started picking up some hours working with a caterer based there. There are countless Mike’s involved in the Columbus Mobile Food scene so to keep this Mike straight from Pizza Mike, Mikey’s, Mike and Other Mike from Flattop Pizza, Mike G and countless others….Mike was initially known as Bearded Mike. As his skills became more renown and in spite of the fact that he does not have duct tape holstered to him, an astute individual started to call him Mikegyver so the moniker stuck.

So what else does he do? “When I’m not living the dream working on a food truck, I am a sculptor. Mostly work in Cast Metal and Concrete, but no material is off my pallet/palate/palette. I can make anything you can imagine.”

I asked Mikegyver a few questions about what he has observed and learned in the Food Truck world.

Any interesting observations about the Food Truck world?

All I can say is if I had a dollar for every time a food truck owner told me ,” don’t tell anyone else this, but ….”

Any advice for food truck customers based on what you have learned?

Read the whole menu before you ask any questions and of course we take credit cards…. it’s the future.

Any Advice for Food Truck owners based on your experiences?

My advice for truck owners, if you are in it for money quit now. And don’t let anyone push you around. It is your burden/business so be open to advice but do what you want.

Being the hired gun / High Plains Drifter / Lone Ranger of the Food Truck world, if someone needs your services, how do they contact you? Is there a Mikegyver signal like Batman?

If someone would like to contract my services my email is Mikesinside@gmail.com

Posted in Behind the Counter, Gastronomic Stimulus, Mobile Food | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Booze in the Ville: The Politics and Mathematics of Alcohol Sales

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 22, 2013

vote yes

I am a Clintonville Citizen and I approve my own message:


There are three issues that long time Clintonvillians hold as crucibles among their neighbors.

1) The Morse-Bethel Road Connector (I am against it, I think I wrote a good letter to the editor about it years ago).

2) Widening the intersection at High Street and East North Broadway (I see both sides of the argument. I sympathize with both sides of the argument. I think most of the people against it are crackpots. I think all the people for it don’t live on East North Broadway. My position. Typically neutral, but I would vote for a compromise which would be a southbound right turn lane added to the West-East lane. This would cut down on traffic and would only affect a building that is on its last legs – no trees lost, no houses hindered and hopefully a good payout the property owner for being a good citizen.

3) Alcohol Sales in Clintonville All over Clintonville. To that I say yes. Or at least mostly yes.


My mission is to discuss item number three. There was an urban legend that Clintonville was the dry part of the city. Such is not the case. For the most part the area is wet and has been for many decades. One of the oldest bars in the city is the Crest Tavern – now the Crest Gastropub. Many years ago, I did a Clintonville Bar crawl which involved drinking at 13 bars in 14 hours (with a 2 hour siesta to eat pizza and watch a horse race at my house). Since then, a few bars and several even better beer shops have been added to the mix of choices. However some areas remain dry most notably the area by my house. On May 7th, residents in Clintonville will be able to change that. I hope they come out in droves to vote yes. I will.

A much better article by a writer with better pedigree in a publication with a much larger fan base will hint at the argument I am going to proffer. Maybe people will connect the dots when the article is published or surmise the doctrine I am getting ready to preach. However, to help those that might vote before the article comes out here we go.

First let’s start with the possible reasons that people might have been against alcohol sales in the past. Clintonville is a very family oriented part of town that really hit its original peak in the 1960’s. Having watched four seasons of Mad Men, I could see why residents would have wanted to cut down on the sales of alcohol in our fair community – Clintonville would have been a Peyton Place of debauchery. In the modern era, I can say that most of the bars in Clintonville really suck – with the exception of O’Reilly’s, maybe Bob’s Bar and hopefully the brand new Crest Gastropub. I could see people wanting to hold mediocrity at bay. We have about the same number of “meh” pizzerias in the area. Just say no to more lame bars and average pizza, say yes to the chance a well crafted meal. I am sure there are other thoughtful reasons why certain areas of Clintonville were/are anti-alcohol and if you know those, please post here.

Now for why I am pro and why I hope others will be voting yes as well. The major gripe of residents of Clintonville is a lack of good restaurant choices. While a restaurant does not need alcohol sales to be successful, it really, really helps. As for me, I usually don’t drink at dinner but I observe that quite a few do. Studies show that people generally limit their alcohol consumption to 1-2 drinks with a meal. This is not enough to risk public drunkenness but it is enough to make a sizeable increase in a restaurants bottom line. Beer and wine are easy to serve and store and even easier to mark up. Many a restaurant will mark it up a lot. While a good cocktail requires a good, skilled bartender who can mix a good drink, engage in good banter with the customers, somehow not want to rip off the owner of the establishment and have the common sense and tact to cut people off at the right time in the right way – a good beer or wine just requires someone with the skill to open a bottle. Most people can do that well with the right tool and for a lower wage.

I have seen many restaurants come and go in Clintonville over the years. The one I miss the most, strangely, is G.D. Ritzey’s. Many closed because they had a mediocre product and mediocre service and that is something alcohol sales can’t fix. But to get the right restaurants and the right traffic flow industry knowledge tells us that alcohol sales is the key. It does not have to be liquor but wine and beer do help sales a lot. The profit margins on a middle of the road menu are pretty narrow and money is made in volume and turning tables quick. If you want to have a higher grade of food and the profit margins that go with it an owner needs something to entertain the common man between courses and to provide pompous Epicureans something to pontificate about….their knowledge of wine.

I have discussed Clintonville with several successful restaurant owners and business developers. What are the barriers to having the type of restaurants we want…..an alcohol permit. Part of the problem is a city buracracy that is burdensome to deal with and second part blocking the solution are a few dry districts with a few people that fear having suds near their abodes. The spot we would all like to see do well but has floundered is the spot on High Street that was: Scottie McBean and Babuska’s and will someday be Talitas. The two former eateries were “meh” – average food with some nice people that tried did not make it. Would beer and wine sales saved either of these businesses….in the long run, I think not. But the location would be much more attractive to someone to try if they could add a high mark up item to the menu. Place a strong menu driven restaurant with a few alcoholic beverages in that spot and it could do well. The demand is there. Look at Villa Nova just up the road- a bastion of middle of the road dining for decades. While the bar is not the reason for the success of the place – it has helped a lot. When the Wildflower Cafe added alcohol sales – it was the shot in arm the place needed to uptick sales in a slow economy. (Please by no means assume I am saying think Wildflower is fine dining – I might say average, but I like having the place in the community and want to keep it and others like it). The Crest Gastropub is going to help drive south Clintonville to a new level or prosperity and keep more of our dining dollars near home. I would love to see more places like that in North Clintonville as an alternative to…..nothing.

What might turn this tide? Mozart’s and Vienna Ice Cafe. The owners have purchased a property near Morse Road to move into. The have a long history in our community. They are committed to the restaurant they plan to open with or without alcohol sales but they are asking Clintonville to vote to allow them to have the opportunity to serve alcohol. Their friends and employees hit the streets to ask people to sign the petition. I hope the issue passes and I hope that increases the chance of Mozart’s and any other new restaurants in the area in their the odds of survival and sustainability. It costs money to bring the issue to the table and it will cost money not to have it pass but it will cost all of us additional culinary options and opportunities if we do not open up the last areas of our community to the pursuit of happiness in the form of an overpriced beer, an overvalued glass of wine or locally produced spirit. Vote yes, to give our community hope to brighten our gray culinary landscape and help us grow our community by adding what people have said has been missing forever – better restaurant choices.

Posted in Food For Thought, Gastronomic Stimulus | 2 Comments »

Sharon Square Food Arcade

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 12, 2013

SSFA2

So here is the thing. Well one of the things. While the whole concept of mobile food is being on the move, if an owner wants business people need to find the truck or cart. The best way to do that is to pick a spot, go there consistently for set hours, “train” the community to seeing you there and wondering what you do. Then with some luck, a lot of marketing, a good product and plenty of word of mouth….maybe you get enough business to keep going there. Investing that much time and risk into one spot is a lot to ask a new business and being stationary is contrary to mobile food right? Maybe not.

Someone on the move in the mobile food community is Rosa Huff, the owner of Crepes a la Carte. Full of Chutzpah and ideas she often a whirlwind of chaotic energy. She and her husband own a computer business at Sharon Square, a small retail strip right on the line between Worthington and Columbus….actually the line runs almost exactly in the middle of the parking lot. Long ago, Sharon Square housed a pizzeria. There is a hard to see walkway in the middle of the building which has an arcade feel to it. Rosa’s mind started to churn and she wondered…”maybe I can set up in the parking lot and serve my own community”. She tried it out on the late fall/early winter of 2012 and took the winter off to tweak the concept.

OK let’s track back a paragraph to this sentence Investing that much time and risk into one spot is a lot to ask a new business and being stationary is contrary to mobile food right? So how about teaming up with other mobile vendors to get more attention and building a following for the spot by offering a diversity of foods and making sure the hours that are committed to the community are covered. Somewhat unique to the world of business is mobile food, at least in Columbus. Most food trucks and carts view themselves as a community, not hardcore competitors but collaborators. It is their job to grow their own business and one of the best ways to do that is to make sure that like-minded businesses do more than survive, they need to thrive so they can be sustainable and legitimize the “brand” of mobile food. So with all this being said, Rosa looked for someone to partner with to build her concept in 2013 and she choose Matt and Lyle from Swoop.

Together with some other guest star mobile fooders, they have been quietly growing the Sharon Square Food Arcade over the winter. I contacted Lyle from Swoop to get some scoops on what is going on now and what we can expect to see in the future.

What is the current schedule for Sharon Square Food Arcade?

We are currently opening on Tuesday and Wednesday from 6pm to 8pm as follows

4/16/13 TBA

4/17/13 Ajumama

4/23/13 Cheesy Truck

4/24/13 TBA

4/30/13 Paddy Wagon

5/1/13 Kenny’s Meat Wagon

How many vendors are there now? Are there plans to expand the number of vendors?

We have 9 vendors but would like to expand that if possible its just a matter of making sure everyone involved has a good experience.

Are there plans to expand the number of days or times of service?

Right now we like the hours of 6pm to 8pm for dinner. It is a good second shift for any mobile vendor to tack on a few extra dollars to a lunch day. We also know how hard it is on the body to be in the truck or standing in the sun for too many hours so that will probably stay the same.

In May we will probably introduce Fridays and Saturdays (Saturdays probably extended lunch hours 12pm to 3pm)

What inspired the name?

There is an old arcade in Sharon Square that is hopefully a part of the future of the pod (maybe a place to go inside and eat during the hotter/colder months) Ultimately if the old arcade never becomes of use to the pod we still like the name a lot!

How did Swoop get involved?

Rosa and her Husband Tom have a computer shop in the strip mall and live nearby and became very conscious of the fact that the food in the area needed a little more variety and because of Rosa’s connection to mobile food she saw a very easy way to give her neighbors and friends new food to try (bring the restaurants to them!). Swoop! wanted to add a couple more dinners to their schedule in the winter months and saw this location as perfect place to test for a future pod. Swoop! boosted the mobile food awareness for the neighborhood and now that its getting warm wants everyone to share in the square (get it Sharon Square…share in square).

How can people find out more about the Sharon Square Food Arcade?

Facebook: facebook.com/5594NHigh

and email inquires: Sharonsquarefoodarcade@gmail.com

Anything else that you want to add?

We brought out the food that we felt best fit the feedback we got from the neighbors but we encourage everyone to like the Facebook page as well so that we can continue to poll everyone and schedule the vendors that the people in the area want the most and in turn create a place for mobile food to always have a good and profitable service.

Note: You may see the lack on Swoop in the schedule and some TBA’s. The Swoop Food Truck was hit by a car in early April and will be out of commission for a short while, in the meantime, they may make some appearances in food cart form so people don’t suffer lackofswoopitis.

Where to find the Sharon Square Food Arcade:

5594 North High Street (1 mile south of SR 161, 1 mile north of Morse Road)
Columbus not Worthington….but almost

Posted in CLOSED, Gastronomic Stimulus | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Quickbyte: Cumin

Posted by cmh gourmand on January 27, 2013

Visual Cliffnotes for this entry below:

cumin

Some parties have heard me say: “I like me a good buff–ette, I does, umm hum” – in my best Slingblade voice. That statement is somewhat correct but with a big ass disclaimer. The typical buffet sends shivers down my spine. I recall trips to a remote region of West Virginia where the highlight for my father would be a value meal at one of two restaurants in town, both of which were buffet based. Knowing that my only other option was to wipe out my emergency supplies of beef jerky or hitchhike fifty or more miles to the nearest other eatery, I acquiesced and accepted my choices from among eighty pre-made, microwaved selections.

There is a place for buffets in this world, but in my world, the only time is don’t wince is when I am gorging myself on an ethnic buffet. The buffet minimizes the likelihood that my lack of knowledge of another culture will cause me to select the one bad option on a menu. I am not enough of a risk taker to blow my one roll of the ordering dice. I want to try everything, so I can get a broad understanding of the cuisine in question and pretend my massive consumption is fueled by a desire to expand my horizons, not my waistline. That is what I tell myself and others. I can sell it, even when I come back with my third plate of choices piled beyond a reasonable height for transporting.

In all seriousness, if the cuisine is Ethiopian, Somali or Indian – I hope for a buffet. I don’t know enough about these cuisines to order well and when I do find something I like I can either not recall what it was or how to pronounce it. For any other buffet, with the possible exception of the Lost Planet Pizza and Pasta buffet of a decade ago or the annual high-end Chinese holiday buffet, I will always say no to the buffet card. If it is Indian, I will always say yes.

I really enjoy the offerings of Banana Leaf and Udipi Cafe….but since one of my life missions is to incite others to boldly go where their palettes have not gone before, the missing link in my informal tours of culinary discovery has been a meat eaters tour of India. I can lure the wary to a vegetarian restaurant or an Indian restaurant….but trying both is pushing the line too far.

I recently encountered an individual that had never had an Indian buffet experience….ever, and it had been too long for me. As it turned out, my to dine list included Cumin which highlighted buffet options that were meat-centric.

However, there was a snag, we would both have to fight through some hangups to get there. I would have to journey to the greater Polaris area. My partner in dine, would have to engage in ethnic buffeting.

Ok. Time to take a pause. First, let me apologize to you, the reader. The quickbyte series is generally that – a short paragraph about something – usually one thing – worth eating. But the wind up on this one has been long and windy. Let’s now get to the meat of the matter.

Cumin offers an Indian buffet or a la carte experience that is safe for the neophyte. The surroundings are new, spotlessly clean, upscale…. bordering on elegant. There is no language barrier or cultural awkwardness. These folks have acclimated to the Midwest and deliver their cuisine in a culturally sensitive manner – large portions, lots of good visuals and fluent American English. Minus the aroma of cumin and curry, one might think they were in a Cameron Mitchell concept restaurant. The service is impeccable. The staff monitor each table like hawks, waiting and watching for the hint of a possibility that a diner might need anything. You could easily envision a slow motion scurry with a server launching themselves through the air at the exact moment your beverage hits 84% capacity. My partner in dine and I were asked no few than five times if we needed more naan.

Not to knock my other Indian buffet choices, but they typically lack decor, decorum and might not be the places that exude optimal dining for someone who is already pushing their comfort zone.

My thoughts on Cumin. The food was great. I would travel back to the Polaris area during non peak times to dine there again. This would be my suggested place for a first Indian experience (with training wheels) without sacrificing flavor.

Cumin
1025 Polaris Parkway
Lunch Buffet
Monday to Friday
11:00 am to 2:00 pm
Saturday and Sunday
11:30 am to 3:00 pm
614.854.0775

Cumin Indian Restaurant and Bar on Urbanspoon

Posted in CLOSED, Gastronomic Stimulus, restaurants | Tagged: | 1 Comment »