CMH Gourmand – Eating in Columbus & Ohio

Dining, Donuts, Dives and Diatribes

  • Recent Comments

    cmh gourmand on Culver’s, Swensons &…
    AlohaJo on Culver’s, Swensons &…
    Yet Another Sneak Pe… on Chicken Nugget Challenge with…
    Cindy Leland on Terita’s: Serving the No…
    Cindy Leland on Zoup is Good Food: Triple Brea…
    cmh gourmand on Bono Pizza (or Jake 2.0)
    tikkanen10 on Bono Pizza (or Jake 2.0)
  • Categories

  • Top Posts

  • Archives: August 2006 to Now

Archive for the ‘hamburgers’ Category

Culver’s, Swensons & Preston’s, OH My!: A Study and Discussion of Hamburgers with a Culinary Dream Team

Posted by cmh gourmand on January 10, 2019

Even though I have a great apathy and lesser antipathy toward Facebook, sometimes it can be a useful tool. A post I made about Ritzy’s led a to a vigorous discussion about the restaurant (much of it mildly disappointing), the hamburgers they make and hamburgers in general. As the hamburger discussion starting to roll out of control Culver’s and Swenson’s were mentioned several times. Some people had tried one or the other, a few both, but one young man by the name of Kenny, had not experienced either burger and was unsure on his stance about Ritzy’s burgers. When that comment dropped, the decision was made to help Kenny with this deficiency by arranging a K-Dog’s Burger Bash which was a progressive dining on hamburgers. Since we all LOVE Preston’s we opted to include it as an additional burger joint. Prior to embarkation and because there would be children present we opted to drop Ritzy’s at the last-minute to save time, money and calories. Kenny shared he had made it back for a second run at Ritzy’s and found the burgers lacking, so we sent the place packing. (Authors note: I felt mildly guilty about dropping Ritzy’s. The next day I went in for ice cream which was great on previous visits but was disappointing, poorly scooped and portioned and over frozen, ice cream).

We set a date and the deed was committed to. I had an absolute dream team to objectively try Culvers, Swensons and Prestons.

Our line up:

First, the guest of honor, K-Dog, Kenny Donnelly of Kenny’s Meat Wagon. The Man, the Myth, the Meat. Most people are not aware that Kenny killed a bear with his bare hands while cooking an egg….when he was seven.

Joe Arcilla the 61Forty-Niner blog and his partner in crime Chris.

Laura Lee, accomplished chef and the owner/operator of the Ajumama Food Truck

Matthew Heaggans, accomplished chef, some say divisive, of Preston’s and Ambrose & Eve with his fine dining companion Cindy. Those that listen to Chefs in the City on WOSU may know Matt by other names: Chris, Dave, etc. But it is Matt. Matthew if you are nasty.

Ed Kowalski, accomplished chef and one of the men of ManBque Columbus.

Matt Swint, of Matija Breads and his family. Fun fact about the Swint clan, they can eat an entire pig is less than seventeen minutes.

And me, trust me, I was not there as eye candy, I was a charity case for this group.

Our first stop was Culver’s in Powell. If you are not familiar with the chain it started in 1984 in Sauk City Wisconsin. It has grown into a small Midwestern empire. They are known for their Butter Burgers and to some extent their custard. We took a team photo then placed our orders.

Our overall consensus was: meh. Not bad but not impressive.

These were some concerns and lessons learned:
-the burger should be hot when served – not all were
-the cheese should be melted, to the point of infusion, into the patty, here the cheese did not experience that level of heat
-the bun should be toasted – not all were toasted to satisfaction
-a disparate ratio. Size does matter. Most people ordered singles. This started a discussion on the “ratio” in particular the bun to burger ratio. The ratio was slightly off here. This is where we were indoctrinated in the Swint Doctrine, concisely stated as “always get the double” delivered with a smirk by the guy that ordered a double burger melt – ensuring both the right ratio and a properly toasted bread. If you get the double, you increase the odds of a good ratio.

Another take away from Matt and Cindy. The Culver’s in Pickerington is the best in Central Ohio and the Culver’s in Hilliard is better – at least in the heating and toasting arenas.

An additional interesting feature at Culver’s was a screen telling the story of their burgers. Propaganda for our group? Maybe.


Next, we found ourselves spread out in the parking lot at the recently opened Swensons in Powell. We were able to stay in touch by text and I made the rounds from car to car, confusing the “runners” but we had to defer most of our discussion of Swensons to our next stop. Laura told us to get nutella shakes, I listened and it was a good decision. Cindy suggested I try the Potato Teezers, I completely forgot and regret my over sight. The teasers blend potato, cheese and jalapeno – how could that go wrong, in my book it can only go right. But I will have to wait to know.

General pluses on Swensons from the group: great shakes and happy to have cheese curds and potato teezers as snacks.

On the burger side, the group liked Swensons as a whole, greater than Culver’s as a whole, but some of the sum of the parts were off. A few people can not wrap their heads around the brown sugar in the burger (and the bun?). However, the ratio was considered to be better and having followed the Swint Doctrine, I was not disappointed. Overall, Swensons was more than meh and much more for some.


We then made our way to the Preston’s at Woodlands Backyard.

Collectively, we love Preston’s. I have not really written about Prestons because I can’t be objective about it. I have followed Matt Heaggans career, in part because he was a client when he started his path of Culinary greatness in Columbus – including but not limited to Swoop Food Truck, Flatiron, Rossi and a pop up at the Hey Hey. (Here is some more on Matt from the past.) Teaming up with Catie Randazzo, the two have made great additions to the city with Preston’s and Ambrose and Eve. Even though we were all full, we ate Preston’s because the burgers are that good.

It was here, with all of us together again that we discussed but did not need to debate what made a good burger. In spite of being in a collective food coma, we were able to have a meaningful and unanimous conclusion on what makes a great burger. Here are our criteria:

1) The “ratio” specifically the bun to burger ratio. It is not an exact percentage but biting into a burger you know if you have too much or too little bun or burger in the first bite. Let’s call this the Kowalski Goldilocks ratio. If the ratio favors much more meat than bun then that would be properly labeled the Kenny Directive.

2) You can’t have a good burger without a good bun. No Discussion needed here. You cannot have a good burger or sandwich without good bread.

3) The bun should be toasted. Alton Brown, my former doppelgänger would have some science to support this but a lightly toasted bun makes for a better burger – it holds in the juices and everything. It just takes a few seconds.

4) Cheese please. You could have a burger without cheese, but why would a sane person do that. The cheese should be properly melted so it integrates into the nooks and crannies of the patty.

5) Temperature: A well done burger is OK but it hides some of the flavors, the same with medium rare anything else is OK and good to serve. Just make sure it arrives to the diner with more than a trace of heat and properly melted cheese.

6) It should have mayo – mayonnaise to be formal. Mayo protects the bun from getting soggy and retains flavors. It may be the reason I like Whoppers (not discussed among this group) because of the ketchup to mayo proportions.

7) The meat to fat ratio in a burger should be 80 lean meat to 20% fat. Collectively this assortment of chefs has almost 100 years of kitchen experience, I will go with that.

8) Pickles. A hamburger should have pickles. I would add, they should be good and more than two but no greater than four, but you can decide your own number.

There are a few more finer points we could have considered like should there be sesame seeds on buns or not. We did not all agree on the need or lack thereof for onion. All in all, I would declare our mission a success.

In this instance, I would add a ninth truth.

9) A good burger is better enjoyed with great friends.

The year 2018 did not deal the best set of cards to the Gourmand household and as much as I tried to reshuffle them, we just never got a better hand. The biggest loss for 2018 was a lack of quality social time with friends and family. It was good to start 2019 with a legitimate good outing with great people tackling the very real challenge of making people eat too many burgers.

Advertisements

Posted in culinary knowledge, culinary misadventure, hamburgers | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

The Return of (G.D.) Ritzy’s

Posted by cmh gourmand on December 16, 2018

Ask residents of Columbus circa 1980 to 1991 and most will have fond memories of G.D. Ritzy’s. Many have a favorite item they remember from the era that Ritzy’s was a growing empire. In one online discussion about the new Ritzy’s one person was indignant that a vegetable dish from the early days was not in the current menu. I could not even remember said item, but to each their own. Ritzy’s model was to deliver 1950’s style food and service to the 1980’s. For the most part it worked. However, Ritzy’s was doomed to use the model that most Columbus based food businesses of the 1980s and early 1990’s followed – expand too much and too fast and land in bankruptcy (Damons, Max & Ermas, Cooker, Rax, 55 Restaurant Group, Salvi’s…..) the list goes on.

During the peak of the empire, there were one hundred plus locations throughout the Midwest. A handful of franchises survived the fall of the company and to this day, there are original locations including Huntington West Virginia and Owensboro Kentucky. I have visited both. These locations do not offer all of the original menu but show that the concept is sustainable. Ritzy’s was known for thin burger patties, old-fashioned hot dogs, shoestring fries, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and home-made, super premium ice cream with big chunks of ingredients in the base.

My own memories Ritzy’s were hazy at best. Two things kept me from crossing the threshold very often, my budget and my job. I worked at Knight’s Ice cream so Ritzy’s was a competitor. My sole focus of my sophomore and junior year of high school was to save up money to buy a car. Making $2.85 per hour and later making $3.50 per hour as a very young supervisor, it took a long time to save for a used 1979 Chevy Camaro. I did not have the budget for Ritzy’s. While I was a student at Watterson, and the Clintonville Ritzy’s was a briefly a hang out for the high school crowd, I never had the right pedigree to be part of those reindeer games so I opted out. I do have strong food memories of the few times I did venture in – I loved the fries and ice cream. Doing and informal poll of other Columbus residents of my generation, fries is always the answer when asked about what menu item was their favorite.

There as a brief resurgence of the ice cream part of Ritzy’s with a short-lived Vienna Ice concept with Mozarts in 2011 which helped keep the ice cream memories of the business alive at least as a reminder of days gone by.

Graydon Webb was part of the original Ritzy’s team and is the leader of the resurrected concept with his sons Bryan and Corey Webb and family friend Drew Devilbiss. The site selected for the relaunch has a lot of history to it. While it was a used car lot for a very long time, for much of the 1970’s to early 1990’s is was an A&W Root Beer, an independent hot doggery called (I think) Frosty’s and perhaps for less than a year the site of a (Dayton based) Casano’s Pizza. Most of those entities featured drive and park service. The Webb’s had to work with the city to make some adjustments to the street lights and intersection to make entry and exit a bit easier and the resulting work delayed opening day for some time. The site finally opened in September of 2018 and has continued with brisk business since.

The space is small, seating about forty people. There is also a small outside dining area for the warmer weather. There is an outside service window for ice cream ordering. The walls have posters and old ads from the original G.D. Ritzy’s including some from the original Clintonville location. The menu brings back the hits from the 1980’s. The burgers are made with a special blend of ground beef, buns are baked in-house daily, the shoestring fries are hand cut and the a rotating selection of 48 ice creams are offered 16 flavors at a time. The food business consultant/mystery shopper in me could not help but notice that the layout of the kitchen and ice cream area creates a few significant bottlenecks in service and observationally, the distribution of work among employees seems to be uneven at best. On my two brief visits I witnessed one or two employees with too many tasks on their plate and the rest with too few or none. I’m sure these workflow issues will resolve over time but a major need is a redesign of the grill prep area and I can’t see enough available space to make that work. My best advice would be to be patient during peak hours and have a good idea of what you want to order before it is time to start the ordering process.

When it is time to order you are given the option of choosing your own toppings for your burger and hot dogs and these are assembled for your Chipotle style (which was Ritzy’s style in the 1980’s) in front of you. Burgers and hot dogs are grilled when you order them. I had forgotten how thin the burger patties were. They are just a bit thicker than a White Caste patty with frayed edges. Most diners would be best off with a double or triple burger to get more meat in their meal. I found the hamburger part of my burger to be lacking in flavor however I did order a single. The whole can be greater than the sum of the parts, at least with my burger order. The bun was very fresh and the variety of ingredients to pile on can make for a tasty burger experience.

I also tried a hot dog. I was very pleased with the entire hot dog experience. Ritzy’s scored points with me by doing things “right”. The bun was a fresh, grilled New England style bun. The hot dog was all beef and looked like it might have been sourced from Falter’s meats. The coney sauce was the perfect consistency and seemed to be a differently spiced take on Cincinnati style chili.

The fries did not disappoint either. These are classic, hand cut shoestring fries. I could find no fault in them, I could have eaten pound of them if such an option was available. The potato flavor really stands out. Guests are given the option to pile all types of extras on to the fried but the fries can easily stand on their own.

On to the ice cream. To date, I have tried four flavors. As I mentioned before, my first job was in an ice cream shop. I know how to make ice cream and have high standards for it. If I ever made a fortune and have free time, I will take the famous Short Course at Penn State then open an ice cream shop in Athens. In the meantime, back in reality, I think Ritzy’s does an exceptional job with their ice creams. The flavors are rich and flavorful, filled with large chunks of chocolate, cookies, etc. There are several tiers to ice cream with Super-Premium being the highest. What this translates to is a dense ice cream (less air in the mix) with a high fat content (more cream) and high quality ingredients throughout. Ritzy’s holds its own to Graeters and Handels both of which are exceptional in my book with their super premium ice cream offerings.

Overall, my Ritzy’s experience was good. I hope Ritzy’s learned a lesson from (G.D.) days gone by and if growth is in the future, grow the business slow and steady instead of fast and furious so they can sustain this good thing for a long time.

Where to find Ritzy’s
4615 North High St
(Clintonville/Beechwold Borderlands)

Posted in Clintonville, hamburgers, hot dogs, ice cream | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Swenson’s Sweeps into Columbus (A Special CMH Spouse Post)

Posted by cmh gourmand on October 29, 2018

Due to a schedule that is a mix of grueling and chaotic this week, I called in CMH Spouse to pinch hit for me to check out the soft open / test drive of the first Swenson’s in Columbus.

Hello CMH Gourmand fans! This episode of “The Gourmand Eats” is being brought to you by Mrs. Gourmand, a.k.a. CMH Spouse. The Gourmand has been super busy guiding beer and ghost enthusiasts around town, so I was asked to fill in for him this weekend at the soft opening of Swenson’s Drive-In, located at 7490 Sawmill Rd. in Dublin. To say that I was happy to serve as his proxy is an understatement. I, and many of my fellow Northeast Ohio transplant friends, have been enthusiastically sharing articles about Swenson’s opening in central Ohio for months.

Originally hailing from Kent, I grew up dining on Swenson’s burgers and shakes. Every time the Gourmand, myself, and CMH Griffin head to Kent to see my family, Swenson’s is one of the locations we always stop at. Their burgers and shakes are deliciously simple and taste like no other burger in the world. (I feel like I can say this as an authority on burgers having dined with the Gourmand at many burger and dog joints around the nation). ((CMH Gourmand Note: We don’t get out much these days, but pre CMH Griffin, investigatory dining as an occupational hazard of being my spouse)). Swenson’s has been open in the Akron/Kent area since 1934 and has been a favorite of my family for many generations. My grandparents were frequent customers, parking in their giant Lincoln Town Car, flashing their lights, and ordering a couple of Galley Boys, the signature and award winning burger Swenson’s is famous for.

The Gourmand himself is a big fan of the Galley Boy. I like to try to steal the green olives they place on the outside of his burger before he eats them, but prefer to order a good old-fashioned cheeseburger. My typical order is two cheeseburgers, with just ketchup and a grape milk shake. (And yes, you read that correctly, a GRAPE shake. Try it, you will love it.) No matter what burger you decide to order, the bun is always lightly toasted. Growing up, rumors circulated that the bun (or maybe the patty itself), had a little brown sugar added to it. I cannot honestly say whether this is a fact, but the burger definitely has a slight sweetness to it, that pairs really well with the heavy coating of cheese that they add to it.


Swenson’s also produces delicious fried side items you can add to your order. Throughout the years, I have sampled fried mushrooms, fried zucchini, French fries and my all-time favorite, onion rings. I don’t often indulge in the Crispy Extras, because the shake and burgers are quite filling, but if you have never been to Swenson’s before, they are a must try.

Another perk of dining at Swenson’s is that you don’t even have to get out of your car. As soon as you pull in, a highly enthusiastic server will already be sprinting to your car to greet you. If you are a Swenson’s regular, they will immediately take your order, if not, you will be advised to turn your lights on when you are ready to order, and the first server to see them will be there to assist you. Orders turn over fast, and will be delivered to your car on a tray that fits over your window (along with your check). When you have gobbled down the last crumb of your meal, you simply flash your lights and a server will be there immediately to take your tray and payment. The servers all share the tips, so everyone is compensated for their hustle. And hustle they do, rain, shine, or snow.

The grand opening of the Sawmill location is November 9th, and I already know that teams of Kent-ites will be arriving to get their Swenson’s fix. If you are a Swenson’s virgin, check it out, you won’t be disappointed. A second location will eventually be opening on Ikea Way in the Polaris area, conveniently located just down the street from the school that I teach at!

Posted in hamburgers, kid friendly dining, Ohio, restaurants | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Back to Family Donut Shoppe for a Burger…..

Posted by cmh gourmand on February 8, 2017

Readers may recall several mentions of Family Donut Shoppe in my multiple explorations of SR 56 on my way to Athens. I will come clean, in the spirit of glasnost (all hail President Putin), in addition to my normal investigations I have been scouting the area to buy property for a combination Bigfoot Sanctuary, Pony Ranch and Tiny/Little House court. Anyone that wants to donate to the cause, contact me directly for investment opportunities.

Anyway I vowed I would head back to Family Donut Shoppe for what looked to be a good burger. I did try on the day before Thanksgiving only to find…after driving all the way there, that a business that is open 24 hours a day…decided to close early and I missed them by 15 minutes. It was a long drive home.

I tried again last week with better results. The hamburger was well worth the $2.30 I paid for it. It was a handmade patty on a fresh bun and liberally doused in mustard, ketchup and pickles by request. You can see a photo below.

family-2

I saw a hand written sign for vegetable soup on the wall so I ordered that as well. It was well worth the $2.25 for at least a 12 ounce serving of soup in a reuseable plastic bowl. The soup broth was homemade with a large volume of frozen vegetables cooked into it and a very generous proportion of ground beef. There was some cabbage thrown in for good measure. Vegetarians beware, old school vegetable soup is often not entirely made of vegetables.

family-1

And of course I ordered a selection of a dozen plus donuts to take home to share. These donuts are exceptionally good. Fans of my Ohio Donut Trail may know that Family Donut Shop is considered among the top three donuteries of the thirty-three I have evaluated around the state of Ohio (to date). The dilemma with these donuts is that I have not been able to evaluate these head to head with Donald’s Donuts and DK Diner on the same day. I did take these donuts to a few hardcore fans of Donald’s Donuts who had tried some of those a few days previous. They too are torn. It is only 82.7 miles from door to door of these two spots so if I get DK Diner donuts before I leave Columbus and sample all three after arriving in Zanesville I may someday have an answer for this critical issue. In the meantime, we are certain that Family Donut has the best custard filled donuts (neither Donald’s or DK offer this style).

In you go to Family Donut Shoppe (only 15 minutes from Chillicothe) please call ahead. While they are open 24 hours, on the very odd chance they opt to close early you do not want to be left holding an empty bag at the mid point of your journey. Let me tell you it is a bitter drive home (but pretty if you take SR 93) without donuts or the satisfaction of a burger in your belly.

box of donuts

donuts at Family Donut Shoppe

Posted in donuts, hamburgers, Ohio, Road Trip | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Copious: $5 Burger is worth at least $10

Posted by cmh gourmand on November 23, 2016

copious-burger

Copious may be a spot just off your radar. The restaurant, bar, music venue and event space opened just over a year ago in the Brewery District. A half-decade ago the location alone would have been a kiss of death but the Brewery District is in the mist of a resurrection. The multi-tasking approach of Copious (and Notes for the music end) has been the key to keeping all of the plates spinning to keep this place open while the Brewery Districts slowly bounces back.

A burger is ubiquitous to any Columbus menu. A burger deal is a dime a dozen and is a frequent card up the sleeve of a business looking to bring is traffic on a slower day. Copious offers a $5 burger deal on Tuesdays. In the interest of my readers, I thought is was necessary to investigate this. My pronouncement, this $5 burger is worth at least $10. The key to this burger is simplicity. Most “special” burgers in town make an effort to go over the top with special ingredients or techniques or too many toppings I don’t want or need. This burger uses better grade ingredients and executes the parts to make the whole much greater than I expected. The two key ingredients form the base of this burger – a perfectly cooked four ounce aged Angus beef patty and an excellent locally made brioche bun. Then you have a choice of either hand cut fries or sweet potato fries and a few house made bread and butter pickles on the side. If you want to build up your burger you can add a choice or cheeses for $1 and/or other toppings for 50 cents to $1. However, this burger stands on its own so you will be perfectly content with it as is. The serving of fries is generous, the pickles are superior and the burger is divine and all price of $5. I can’t think of a better deal that balances quality with quantity as well.

Two side notes. I tried the butterbean hummus on a whim and was glad I did. It was great serving size for $8 with plenty of tortilla chips and veggies to scoop out the mound of hummus made with local lima beans and sweet peas. I was nearly filled up before my first bite of my burger. The second item of note is the secret weapon behind the bar at Copious, Michael Kuch. Michael is a genius at sourcing local craft beers and his selections at Copious are truly impressive. I hate to use the term – curated – but that is exactly the depth and diversity of choices that I continue to see offered at that taps. I’m looking forward to another Tuesday afternoon at the bar stool with a burger in one hand and beer in the other.

Copious Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posted in hamburgers | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Carl’s Townhouse – Chillicothe

Posted by cmh gourmand on July 24, 2016

Carls

My previous Chillicothe visits included: seeing Tecumseh! the outdoor drama, writing about a restaurant for Ohio Magazine in 1998, visiting two donut spots and picking up the vanity at Lowe’s (the only one in inventory for the whole state). Back when I was a government drone my job often took me to the Chillicothe Veterans Administration Hospital (which has roots going back to World War I) but duty to fix problems and ethical responsibility did not allow me to take side trips to explore the area. I never really explored the city or the downtown. Considering Chillicothe was once a state capital and it is fun to say and more importantly considering all of the other places in the state I have explored on a whim, Chillicothe was overdue for an extended trip.

I’m not sure of the exact series of searches that popped Carl’s onto my laptop screen but it was probably related to doing a search related to Family Donut Shoppe. I’m glad I did pay attention to Carl’s and felt the pull to make this my reason to head south. I enjoyed driving the streets of downtown Chillicothe looking at many 1880’s era buildings and small local shops while searching for Carl’s.

I scouted out Carl’s on various review sites and found almost universal love for the place and in particular their burgers. I lured along one of my research assistants, the grumpy old man, with promises of a trip to Family Donut Shoppe afterwards as well as a recon trip to McArthur Ohio. Within moments of arrival to Carl’s the grumpy old man was also pleased. Carl’s is the kind of diner that every community needs. A simple place with straightforward food where regulars come to catch up with each other as well as the events of the day. More diners could help Make America great again.

Having a research assistant allowed me to do extensive food research. I’ll start with the hamburgers. The trademark menu item here are slider style hamburgers. The burgers were much bigger and thicker than a White Castle slider. Students of hamburger history (such as myself) would recognize this as the typical burger of the 1940’s – 1960’s. Neither too big nor too small with a lumpy instead of perfectly formed patty and when paired with fries, a very satisfying meal. The burgers are great and I highly suggest them. I ordered the double cheeseburger basket (two double cheeseburgers and fries).

Double cheeseburger basket

As a student of hot dog history as well as a staunch hot dog advocate, I ordered a chili dog to boot. I was pleased with the presentation here. The bun was lightly grilled, the hot dog was split in the middle to aid grilling as well as chili retention. The chili was definitely homemade with a distinct flavor to it. Overall it was better than average.

chili dog

The grumpy old man ordered the pork tenderloin sandwich. I was happy to see this on the menu. Many years ago I did extensive research on regional sandwiches around the USA for a book project. I spent a week traveling around the Midwest trying out the best pork tenderloin sandwiches in Iowa, Indiana and Illinois which is the heartland of this regional delicacy. I found this version true to style. It was properly breaded and sufficiently – as is the tradition – much bigger than the bun it was served on. More points for Carl’s.

tenderloin sandwich

My favorite item of the lot was also my biggest surprise. I saw apple strudel written on the specials board and ordered that out of curiosity. It turned out to be Apple Strudel Pie! Even the grumpy old man, with his girl-like appetite, found room to take a bite and found it pleasing to the palate as well.

apple strudel pie

One of the things that makes Carl’s a destination is the character of the place which comes from a long history in the community. When I work with clients, I often share with them how important sharing the history of a business is to customer loyalty. Carl’s does a great job in this category by sharing their history on the menu. As a local landmark, this is important, so I photographed that history to share with you below.

part 1

part 2

To wrap it all up. Carl’s is an iconic diner that dishes out breakfast, lunch, dinner and an extensive list of daily specials at affordable prices. If you find yourself in Chillicothe, this is well worth a visit. If you have a few extra minutes walk across the street to the antique shop and see if this trinket is still around. Even though it was $375 I was very tempted to take it home with me. If you are not familiar with the gentleman below, it is J. Wellington Wimpy. A personal hero of mine with an even greater affinity for hamburgers, he is best known for his insightful philosophy, “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” If you fetch Wimpy for me today, I’ll gladly pay you back with a burger on Tuesday.

IMG_4817

Carl's Town House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posted in Diners, hamburgers, hot dogs, Ohio, Road Trip | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

First Bite: Bar 145 (A Dual Review)

Posted by cmh gourmand on January 28, 2014

IMG_2786

I have long wanted to do reviews with more than just my spin on things. Think about Siskel & Ebert or American Idol style restaurant reviews. I always thought more perspectives equate to better information. I finally had my opportunity to try this out when I had a chance encounter with one of my 43 fans. Karl M. dined with me at Bar 145 and I asked him for his view of things and he delivered some fine prose. His review and comments will be in italics and mine will be in bold or regular font. I hope you enjoy this spin on things and if you would like to give this a whirl with me sometime, e-mail me at CMHGourmand@gmail.com


Serendipity — it’s more than just a 2001 movie starring John Cusack. This past December I brought my wife out to German Village for a date during the annual Village Lights Christmas open house. As we walked along the snowy, bustling sidewalks, we came across a booth for Columbus Food Adventures and Columbus Brew Adventures. The name was faintly familiar, so I inquired of the gentleman behind the table.

“Do you happen to know the author of the CMH Gourmand blog?”
“Yes,” he responded, “I’m the author, Jim”.

Serendipity, how you delight me. You see, when I first moved to Columbus in 2008, one of my first priorities was learning more about my new city. Stumbling across the CMH Gourmand website was a true blessing and has inspired many a food adventure. I was excited to meet Jim and to thank him for helping me appreciate the amazing culinary diversity and opportunity here in central Ohio. Having now met him in the flesh, I asked him about meeting for lunch sometime and after a little back and forth we settled on a new gastropub in the Grandview / 5th by Northwest area called Bar 145. It is an honor to be able to share my perspective, however pedestrian, on Jim’s blog.

I’m a details-oriented kind of guy and whenever I go into a restaurant it’s always the little things that catch my eye. Bar 145, set back in the new plaza on 5th Avenue that also houses Romeo’s Pizza and Firehouse Subs, is a very pleasant place to have lunch. The decor is an interesting mix of what I consider to be industrial and modern. There’s a subtle scarlet and gray thing going on too between the color and material choices (dark red and lots of exposed metal). The location features a good-sized bar, a wall full of windows, a sizable patio and even an upstairs loft seating area. With a view into the kitchen and free wifi, there’s plenty to keep you entertained.

IMG_2772

Upon being seated, the servers helpfully explained what exactly a gastropub was (a bar with a menu crafted by a chef), and pointed out a few of the highlights on the one-page food menu. Not being much of a drinker myself, I bypassed the drink menu and focused on the food. Immediately several items caught my eye, including Bavarian pretzel bites (being the good German that I am) and Poutine fries with truffle, duck confit, gravy and cheese curds. Eventually we both ordered the make-your-own burger (a $5 Wednesday special) and a few dishes to share – the pretzel bites, the fries and the bar wings.

My burger, a meat patty with artisan lettuce, goat cheese, mayo, bourbon steak sauce and tomato on a pretzel bun, was good, but didn’t blow me away. Jim and I both agreed that while the condiments stood out, the meat was stoic and was just that — a meat patty. For $5, I’d definitely get it again, but Thurman’s, you still have my heart.

IMG_2781

Both Karl and I liked the build your own burger option and with a checklist to help and the special $5 Wednesday price it was irresistible to us both. One of the options was artisan lettuce which intrigues both of us. Outside the lettuce, we tried to work as a team to sample as many different options on the burger as possible. I opted for this on my burger: beef patty, pretzel bun, artisan lettuce, pickle chips, cucumber relish, spicy bourbon mustard, cheese and chicago style BBQ sauce. I requested the burger 145 style which I would describe as medium raw. Next time, I’ll get the burger medium well. The whole was greater than the sum of the parts with this burger. I liked everything but the hamburger patty itself. It lacked any flavor, it could have been a veggie burger for all I could tell. I kept waiting to see Gordon Ramsey or Robert Irvine burst through the kitchen shouting “you call that a burger, where is the salt and pepper and the bloody flavor man!”

IMG_2774

The warm Bavarian pretzel bites, though good, weren’t what I was expecting. The menu describes them as “Butter Baked Pretzel Roll Bites, garnished with Chopped Bacon & served with Cheddar Chive Sauce.” Once again, Jim and I, clearly both great minds that think alike, commented on the fact that the pretzel bites were more like toast. They were tasty, especially paired with the cheddar chive sauce, but not satisfying if you were excited about pretzels. In addition, the pretzel buns – thick nuggets of soft toast that kind of look like a pretzel – didn’t really taste like one. Admittedly, I did finish them all.

Karl was spot on with the pretzel bites. The sauce was great but I felt that I was the victim of a bait and switch, I could consider the bites to be toasted bits of bread.

The loaded fries were served poutine style — that is, covered with gravy. This was my first experience with gravy and fries and I must say, it was delightful. Similar to the pretzel bites, the fries were good in a surprising sort of way. The menu painted an exotic picture of ducks wading in a stream lined with truffles. Instead, all I tasted were decent fries smothered in gravy. Definitely tasty, but not the destination fries that I was expecting. If anything, it heightened my desire to try other poutine-style fries. Any fry would be hard-pressed to dethrone the current king in my book – the fries at Loops.

In my eyes – the fries were good but again, the bait and switch effect was in. I can’t say I think much of the truffle oil fad/trend so I did not order the fries for that. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to find I could not taste any truffle in the fries. The gravy was OK and I’ve never met a cheese curd that I did not consume” but this was probably the weakest poutine I have ever encountered and might make a Montreal native mildly irked.

IMG_2780

The bar wings — now those were fantastic! I’m not much of a bone-in wing guy, more of a BW3 boneless wing special sorta gent. These wings are far and away the best I’ve ever had. The skin was crisp and as you bit in there was a little heat followed by the meat literally falling off the bone. Next time I might just order the wings. They managed to put together a great tasting wing without resorting to smothering it in sauce. If your thing is to find the hottest wings around, these aren’t it. But if you are looking for a tasty bit of chicken wing and don’t mind just a touch of heat, definitely check these out.

While described as wings on the menu, these are really legs (as was pointed out to me by an astute observer of the obvious). These were fabulous and I would say the top three in the deep-fried wing/leg category in our fair city. Four legs (wings) cost $12.00 which is little steep in my book.

In conclusion, Bar 145 is a nice addition to the neighborhood. The only truly noteworthy dish that from my must-have food perspective were the wings. Granted, the menu boasted some potential winners that I didn’t get a chance to try — the apple pie burger, for example, or chicken and waffles. I could see myself returning for the burger special or to sit on the patio when the weather is nice – especially if it’s a chance to hang out with Jim. It’s a good addition to the 5th by Northwest corridor as it continues to experience a recent revitalization.


At the end of our meal Karl and I were pleased with the overall experience but felt we may have missed out on what Bar 145 excels at. After extensive quizzing of our server I decided I needed to return for the Chicken and Waffles, Coffee and Donuts and another order of the wing/legs. My report on trip two is below. But first let me digress by bringing a new term to your attention.

I first encountered the term Gas Bro Pub while engaged in conversation with three of the foremost lady experts in the field of food and beer analysis. I will not name which of the three threw out the term but as soon as I heard it, I thought of Bar 145. When you visit, think of what that term says to you and them let me know if that diagnosis is accurate.


IMG_0372

Now on to my second trip. I sauntered up to the bar and made the order you see listed above. Initially I was concerned about whether I could finish so much food. Fortunately for my girth and constitution the portions sizes were much smaller than I expected.

First, let me begin with my second order of the wing/legs. These were just as good as the first, maybe better because I felt I had a bit more sauce with these. These four legs were damn good. There is shredded carrot slaw underneath which is a bit bland, but when mixed in with any remaining blue cheese dressing from the wing/legs becomes a great dish by itself.

IMG_0366

As for the chicken and waffles. Overall I would say meh. However, there are some real gems in this dish. The side of macaroni with cheese meets expectations but the pairing of tasty bacon with the mac bumps things up a notch from mediocre. The fried chicken part of the chicken and waffles was really good. The chicken was juicy and tender and the breading was perfect. This may have been the best fried chicken I have had in town for a couple of years. The waffles were nothing to blog home about and the syrup tasted cheap and watery. All in all, it would be a good meal at $10 but I felt gouged at $12 for 1 1/2 chicken breasts, 1/2 of a waffle and a small side of mac and cheese.

IMG_0368

Last and somewhat least is the coffee and donuts. I was excited about this offering and had hoped for something to add to the Ohio Donut Trail. The coffee was really good, and that says a lot because I am not much of a coffee drinker. It had an added surprise of what looked and tasted like a giant junior mint floating on top of it. The donuts, would be what I would call fried dough croutons. They were small, hard, yet chewy squares of dough about the size of a 50 cent piece. These were good but overpriced and not what I would consider a donut.

All in all. I like Bar 145 and what they have to offer. I do want to try some more dishes and I’d gladly go back for the wing/legs and the Wednesday $5 build your own burger special. If you are looking for your first Gas Bro Pub experience and want it to be a good one, this is the place to go. At the time of this writing, Bar 145 has been open less than a month so I anticipate that it will improve and refine over time.

Bar 145 on Urbanspoon

Posted in bar, beer, hamburgers, restaurants | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Swenson’s Drive In: Worth the (Road) Trip

Posted by cmh gourmand on January 1, 2014

IMG_0114

If you find yourself traveling in Akron or the nearby area this year, I’d suggest you block out 30 minutes to travel through time. Swenson’s Drive In Restaurant started in 1934 and other than a few price increases, has not changed a thing since day one. This is a cap hop restaurant, so when you pull up in your car, turn on your lights and a young server will pop out the door to take your order. Your selections will be simple, chiefly burgers, fries and shakes. When your order is ready the same server or a different one will bring your food out to you on a tray you can mount to your car window.

Swenson’s has earned a large legion of loyalists over the last eighty years expanding to eight locations and a food truck in three counties. Swenson’s excels in the principle of keep it simple. Check out the menu below.

IMG_0113

Swenson’s serves as a good reminder that you don’t have to have an extensive menu with fancy ingredients to be successful – just deliver a good product, consistently with great service. On my recent trip I tried their signature burger, the Galley Boy which is a double cheeseburger consisting of a buttered, toasted bun with two burger patties, two slices of Velveeta and two special/ secret sauces (a sweet BBQ and a tartar style mayo and onion (?) sauce with an Olive skewered on top with a toothpick and a small tub of ranch dressing on the side.

I had a very good vanilla shake, but if I had more experience at the place I would have taken the time to ponder on one of the 17 choices of shakes including grape. There is more to explore on the menu so if it is as good as what I tried, the small sidetrip will be worth your time.

Posted in hamburgers, Ohio, Road Trip | 2 Comments »

Swooping into the Coop’s spot at the Hey Hey

Posted by cmh gourmand on August 11, 2013

IMG_2514

The Hey Hey is an iconic dive bar located in Merion Village / German Village. It previously served as host kitchen to Angela Theado of the Coop. The Coop will soon be perched in a new spot in Clintonville so Angie put out a call for another Food Truck chef to fill her spot. Matt Heaggans swooped in to get that spot as the brick and mortar extension of his Swoop Food Truck.

Actually, the official name of Swoop is Swoop Food Group and it is now a combination of a food truck, two food carts and a lot of good culinary ideas. The Swoop truck was birthed in Washington D.C. a few years ago. It was at that time that my relationship with Swoop began. The captain guiding the ship at Swoop is Chef Matt Heaggans. About two years ago, I started e-mailing with him as he was planning his journey back to Columbus. I have come to know Matt and his crew well over the last year. The constant theme in anything Matt does is a desire to do more than expected and do it better. He maintains a high standard for all of the food he prepares from a lowly tater tot to the most haute of cuisines. Matt is a man of many words however, I enjoy him best when he is quiet. Let me clarify that. I have watched him intently crafting a dish in a kitchen with intense concentration and focus. At these moments he is in the zone and it is truly a pleasure to observe. What I enjoy best is watching him silently watch someone who is enjoying what he has created for them. He watches, smiles briefly then moves on. Sometimes the smile is a smirk and other times it is a large grin but it is always from the heart. Matt is happiest when he can see someone enjoy the craft of his labors.

The Hey Hey has a long tradition of serving food. The old standard expected from any chef who calls the kitchen home are the sauerkraut balls. Yak was added to the menu by the Coop and it continues as the signature protein of the Swoop menu. A bit of back story on Yak. The son of the owner of the Hey Hey operates a Yak Farm. The Coop featured a Yak Burger when it was a food truck. That relationship fostered the transition of the Coop to roost in the kitchen of the Hey Hey. Yak was quickly embraced by the very diverse clientage of the Hey Hey and has become so entwined with the Hey Hey experience that it had to remain on the new Swoop menu.

IMG_2526

I am sure that menu may change over time. I am also confident that two of the new menu items will remain as long as Matt is cooking in the Kitchen. The first is a burger that was described by one person I dined with as the “best fucking burger ever”. That was from a man who rarely uses profanity. His wife, who does use profanity frequently, took a different approach. She silently ate much more of the burger than she planned, a lot more. She was impressed too – but speechless about it which is the highest of compliments. The Yak Attack is a double Yak Burger served on a toasted brioche bun (made by Matt Swint formerly of the Per Zoot Food Truck), a special sauce (which I can not reveal) and a garnish of arugula, diced onion and tomato. It may sound exotic but I would say it is the epitome of a classic American burger just with yak instead of beef. It tastes lean. The bun is moist and has a slight crunch but just enough firmness to hold everything in place. It is among the finest burgers I have ever had. Given the opportunity to sample a few more over the course of time, I may even come to call it the best burger ever. I don’t give praise like that away. The Yak Attack is all that but does not need the bag of nuts.

The second menu feature I foresee as an enduring feature is House Pimento Cheese with Toasted Bread. The cheese dip has just enough spicy kick to it to keep your attention. The toasted bread is dense, chewy and filled with plenty of holes to soak up the dip. This is the perfect item to share with friends. Soon you will be interested to find how many other menu items you will find yourself spreading leftover cheese sauce on.

IMG_2521

There are many good reasons to go to the Hey Hey. You can go to enjoy the bar, soak in the history of the place, enjoy one of the wonderful live music performances hosted there, or partake in some exquisite people watching. And now the Hey hey adds in some of the finest bar food or any food for that matter. Check it out Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays evenings.

Hey Hey Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Posted in CLOSED, hamburgers, Mobile Food, restaurants | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Quick Byte: Thurman to Go

Posted by cmh gourmand on December 26, 2012

thurman ad

I was surprised but not shocked when I saw the ad above. I knew that Bakery Gingham had recently closed (ending the chapter on the local cupcake fad) next door and I had wondered what would become of the vacant store front. It was not left idle for long.

Since the Thurmanator became a Columbus icon via the show Man vs. Food and the book Hamburger America the lines at the Thurman Cafe have been long and the belly aching extended: “I was going to go to Thurman’s but the wait was three hours” and “The place is full of tourists”.

Now – you can get a Thurman Burger or a Thurmantor to go. The space is simple – an order counter and some menus, there are no chairs and outside some cool posters, no decor. Thurman To Go exists entirely for the production and distribution of Thurman Burgers. These oversized burgers teetering with toppings on the edge of collapse can be ordered by phone and picked up on the go. This should please some, especially those that are looking to add a notch to their food eating trophy case but don’t have the stamina to wait in line at a place that takes no reservations.

thurman 4

I say hurrah for Thurman’s and for those that can get their fix and add to their weight without adding to their wait. Consider this announcement a gift for those of yourwho have out-of-town guests in for the holidays in dire need of a famous burger or for those of you that have fled our city but are back on break hoping to reconnect with your past. If getting this burger to go fills your fix that is great. But you are missing the point and the real essence of Thurman’s.

The Thurman Cafe has been family owned business since 1938. Little had changed in the space since I became aware of its existence in the early 1990’s. At that time, the place was always crowded on the weekends but if you timed it just right you could pop in with a group of friends with a minimal delay. Back in those days, you had to wait outside on the sidewalk until your table was ready. In the late 1990’s or early aughts they bought the building next door and turned it into a waiting area with bathrooms doubling the size but adding no seating. Now the tavern has taken over a third building but still has not added a single table, chair or booth to add to the dining area – as the square footage increased the number of people served stays the same and the intimacy of the place as well as the pace of the staff remain timeless. I think there is something cool about that – how many times has a restaurant in Columbus over expanded, lost the quality of the product and the consistency of service by getting too big? I would say countless times.

thurman 2

If I have to wait to have the full Thurman experience of being squeezed into crowded two top that used to be a table from Wendy’s hamburgers in the 1980’s – then so be it. The experience I have at Thurman’s today (well last Saturday) was the same I had in 1992. And I like it that way. It is perfectly OK to get stuck in a rut as a restaurant and stick with tradition. I hope they don’t change a thing again if/when that take over another section of the building. In the meantime, when people feel that have had to wait too long, they go to Easy Street Cafe next door and have a perfectly good meal and a memory of not getting into Thurman’s and a desire to go back and try again.

Thurman Cafe
183 Thurman Avenue
German Village
614.443.1570

Thurman to Go
189 Thurman avenue
614.443.1570 x 1

Thurman Café on Urbanspoon

Posted in hamburgers, sandwiches | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »