CMH Gourmand – Eating in Columbus & Ohio

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No Menu Mondays at The Market at Italian Village

Posted by cmh gourmand on September 9, 2018

Let us begin with a quick overview of The Market at Italian Village before we get into the meat of the matter. The Market at Italian Village or Market IV which I sometimes hear people say, opened in the summer of 2014. It creates a European flair by combining the services of a butcher, deli, bakery, wine shop, bar and cafe offering small plates and entrees for lunch and dinner. You could, in theory, tell your spouse that you are going out to pick up some milk but in the process get some fancy cheese, a nice snack and a refreshing cocktail while still bringing a glass jug of Hartzler Milk home so as to not have your errand excuse tainted.

No Menu Monday was my first visit to the Market (really). Here is the concept for No Menu Mondays, starting at 4 PM the kitchen serves one-night-only experimental items created by Chef Tyler Minnis. The menu items change weekly allowing the cook team to flex their creative juices and have fun while showing off what they can do. The menu is hand written with some highlights on the wall mounted chalk board. On some Mondays there are also some pairings with classes. The night I dropped in there was an Amaro (Italian liqueur) making class that CMH Spouse and I would have loved to have attend but our schedule did not cooperate.

Speaking of CMH Spouse, this outing was also a date night. We do not get many of those. Our disposable income is nearly non-existent as is our unencumbered free time. Our schedules and energy levels rarely overlap. When the possibility of a date night does come up which is a rare opportunity, it is hard for us to justify the cost of a sitter and meal/activity since the cost of a few hours away would pay for a speech therapy session and an occupational therapy session both of which are not cheap and not covered by insurance. On past date nights we have: bought a cell phone, picked out a treadmill and at least 80% of the time if a meal was involved, one or both of us has had some type of gastronomic distress shortly thereafter. On this magic Monday, we had an in-house sitter, a school orientation we were both required to leave the house for anyway and (disclaimer) I had a credit to cover part of the meal from the kind folks at The Market at Italian Village. Plus this was a Monday which is often the only day of the week where both of us have our schedules remotely line up.

The No Menu Monday format turned out to be the perfect fit for us. We both were able to go to a place we had never been to. Since we were walking in for a menu that had never existed before and would not exist again, we had both no expectations of what we might have and a guaranteed unique experience that we could not exactly replicate again (which is great because we are unlikely to have another date night for at least six months). Most importantly the way No Menu Monday works ensured that we would get to work as a team – evaluating the menu together, deciding what the best candidates seemed to be as well as which were both mutually acceptable. If you are familiar with the Tom Cruise film, Oblivion, this may make sense, in my mind I constantly hear the phase from Mission Control “Are you still an effective team…Jim.” Yes, yes were are. CMH Spouse and I have way too much practice with team work. We planned our wedding and honeymoon in less than two weeks both of them perfectly executed and under budget. We sold two houses, moved twice and bought one house in eight months. Then things started to get complicated. Three days after we moved into our house she fell down the stairs breaking her ankle thus requiring three surgeries, eleven screws, a few metal plates, months of physical therapy and some interesting scooter rides at stores around Columbus. Within a week of her being “released” to walk independently and off her pain meds, she was pregnant with CMH Griffin. Griffin was born exactly one year after she broke her ankle so I often tell people I kept my wife incapacitated for a full year. The pregnancy and the post pregnancy had a lot of complications. Passing by that, raising CMH Griffin has had more than the average share of challenges. We have been in almost constant teamwork and problem solving mode for our entire marriage. So it was refreshing to have a teamwork exercise where the most pressing problem was how to maximize the probability that we picked the very best menu items for our tastes!

On to the meal. We started with Toast! Not your typical hipster Avocado toast but a very good house made bread, toasted and topped with fresh peaches, tomatoes, arugula and other tasty tidbits on an olive tapenade base. The verdict -> great!

Moving on along, we had a charcuterie plate with an assortment of meats, sauces, berries, pickled beans and other things, cheese, whole grain mustard and the best pork rind I have ever crunched on. This was paired with a plate featuring more house made bread. This was a huge hit as well.

Our main course was a shared plate of ravioli. My wife makes her own and she is of strong Italian descent so the standard is very high. The marinara inspired sauce with this dish was a winner as was the base of pasta it coated. This was the favorite of our selections for the evening. My wife was a bit concerned about the corn in the sauce but found it added a needed bit of sweet to the entree and although outside her realm of tradition, she embraced this in the dish.

We wrapped up with a dessert of a homemade ice cream sandwich with homemade cookies. This was just enough to ensure we were both stuffed without being incapacitated.

We had a very good meal with no mishaps which if not a first, is at least a rarity for at least our parenting years of our marriage. We will collectively take that as a win. Thanks for getting us out of the house, at the same time, No Menu Mondays.

If you care to supplement the musing on my No Menu Monday experience, The Market often posts photos of No Menu Monday menu items on their Instagram feed.

Market Italian Village Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Cuco’s: A Columbus Classic

Posted by cmh gourmand on August 21, 2018

These was a time, in a Columbus neither long ago or far away when our choices for Mexican food were Chi Chi’s, Garcia’s or Talita’s. The only plus of that era was that we also had Zantigo. Today, our vibrant Latino population gives us access to phenomenal taco trucks, authentic restaurants, grocery stores and even a tortilla maker. But during the transition of the 1990’s a little place called Cuco’s on Henderson Road came on my radar. It started as a grocery store with a small taqueria in the back. Over time, the grocery space shrank and the square footage of the taqueria grew. Then a patio was added and expanded. Then, because this is Columbus, the food truck capital of the Midwest, a food truck for catering was added too. Throughout this journey to the mainstream Cuco’s has not cut quality and many of the dishes are still authentic to tradition and culture.

Strangely, I have never written about Cuco’s in the history of this web log other than a very brief mention in 2008. How bizarre. I can thank the Grumpy Old Man for leading me to Cuco’s recently. The Grumpy Old Man often views me as the bane to his existence with my constant plying of hipster stouts, fortified Shiraz and challenges to his world view. My one redeeming quality with him is my ability to obtain/purloin old bricks. The three readers of CMH Gourmand that are also Bricks of Ohio Blog fans may know my ability to sniff out old bricks for repurposing is legendary in very small circles. Having recently acquired a large quantity of Hocking Block for his needs, I proposed that he compensate me with lunch. As fate would have it, on the day in question, he was having work done at Midas on Henderson Road so he offered either Neighbors Deli or Cucos since both were within walking distance. What a Sophie’s choice for me. I opted with Cuco’s because it dawned on me it had been at least 18 months since I had been there. We agreed on the destination thus the deal was done!

There are several bonus features at Cuco’s that ad value. My favorite is the salsa bar which offers several choices of self serve salsas as well as pickled carrots, onions and such. Cuco’s was one of the first places in town where one could consume real deal fish tacos. Breakfast is served most days of the week as well. The meals are filling, the melted white cheese is addicting and the prices are a reasonable value. Their chips are always fresh and free. There is a lot to like about Cuco’s.

The Grumpy Old Man has spent a lot of time in Puerto Rico and when he goes he is quick to share the running total of how many pork tacos he has consumed at our favorite taco purveyor in Old San Juan, Charlie’s Taco’s. Both he and I have high standards for Mexican and Latino fare and our standards were not compromised in any way during our lunch. We shared barbacoa tacos and tinga. I had some caldo de res (beef soup) to boot. I also introduced The Grumpy Old Man to the concept of the salsa bar, a feature he had not been aware of….how bizarre. I’ll end my post encouraging you keep am old school Mexican restaurant rotation even through we have added so many great new places over the last decade. I’ll also thank you for keeping an old school blog in the rotation even though we are oversaturated with other medias to choose from, I still think writing and stories trump excessive photos and emoji’s.

Cuco's Taqueria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sunday Brunch at Rockmill Tavern

Posted by cmh gourmand on August 19, 2018

Breakfast…..number five on my list of preferred meals after Lunch, Dinner, Second Lunch and Brunch. One of the downsides of my meal preference matrix, is my most available time to socialize….is breakfast. However, brunch does bridge my fifth favorite meal with my first creating an opportunity for balance and perhaps some open-mindedness towards breakfast food. My new favorite brunch spot, specifically on Sunday, is Rockmill Tavern. Unlike the Short North and other local hot neighborhoods the Brewery District has plenty of easy and cheap parking options but Sunday offers easy access to free meters on Front Street. Hence, this creates a win for visit to Rockmill Tavern.

I’ve written about Rockmill Tavern -> before and it has been a favorite lunch spot for me over the last year. The bonus for brunch at Rockmill Tavern is access to plenty of fresh Belgian Beers with their phenols and esters (aromas related to yeasts using in brewing) which the kitchen very consciously works to compliment and pair with the dishes the chefs create. Another bonus is access to some of the best items from the lunch and dinner menus, in particular, the Tavern Burger. I’m really enjoying their Egg in a Biscuit option. Since day one, I have been so enamored with their biscuit choices that I have lobbied to make them a source of currency. The Basic Egg in a Biscuit is a soft egg on top of an extra sharp cheddar biscuit with a half-dollar sized slice of crispy ham and some oh so health cheddar fat hollandaise! Another version of this adds in some Fried Chicken.

Another good option is Pimento Grilled Cheese on Challah Bread. This takes the most simple and basic of sandwiches and upscales the flavors to make a rich and pleasing sandwich which pairs well with a beer or even a cocktail.

There are several more dishes worth exploring including, but not limited to: Spicy chicken sandwich, roasted and braised beets and Chilaquiles. Rockmill Tavern, under the oversight of Andrew Smith in the Kitchen has always excelled at making vegetables that anyone would want to eat. You will find plenty reasons to eat your vegetables among the selections. What I would like to see added – a simple side of home fries with sausage gravy. Maybe someday.

As if these were not enough reasons to drop in for Sunday Brunch, let me make a very different pitch. As Vice President of the Brewery District Trade Association, I want to let you know that the neighborhood wants and appreciates your business. Please come early and come often. Sunday Brunch is from 10 AM to 3 PM. Just do it.

Posted in Brunch, restaurants | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Ho Toy: A Downtown Discovery, Oh Boy

Posted by cmh gourmand on July 8, 2018

Over the last decade I have occasionally driven by the classic Ho Toy sign and wondered about its origins. Due to its proximity to the former Lazarus Department store I just assumed Ho Toy was defunct long ago. A post by my colleague, Joe, the 614orty-Niner concerning Columbus restaurant history let me know it Ho Toy is still serving the public. Since Ho Toy was indeed open and like me, Joe had never dined there before (which is saying a lot considering he worked just around the corner for many years) this was clearly a call to action. So a text was sent and a lunch date was set.

The Ho Toy name goes back to 1959 when it opened at its original location on Town Street. In 1980, it moved the current location at 11 West State Street taking over a former two story Burger King location. The decor dates to the 1980’s or even earlier and it’s Burger King roots show: formica counters, vinyl booths (now covered with plastic sheeting), Burger King style primary colors in the background as well as the carpeting and flooring with some faded Chinese paper lanterns added for character. During the heyday of Ho Toy both floors were busy and up to seven servers would work the front of the house. Today a busy shift might see two servers in service. What Ho Toy does consistently deliver is Americanized Cantonese Chinese comfort cuisine classics.

The current owner purchased the restaurant in 2003 (a few years before Lazarus closed) after working in the kitchen for many years. He incorporated Thai cuisine into the menu. Joe and I opted to work as a team by ordering three items from the menu: Lo Mein, Chop Suey and Phad See Ew. We chose Chow Suey since it is the epitome of a dish created for the American palate. Joe brings considerable expertise to this table having grown up in the Bay Area with Filipino parents, trips to authentic Chinatown restaurants were part of his formative years. And like me, his formative years also included a fair amount of La Choy Chinese food and a liberal amount of Spam and Vienna sausages.

We found the Chop Suey to be more than passable. We both commented in the freshness of the vegetables as well as the chicken in the dish. I was most intrigued by the fried rice offered with the entrée. It was a deep brown with just a trace of vegetables incorporated into it and had a very light, un-fried flavor to it. Looking at some Yelp reviews for Ho Toy this presentation of fried rice seems to have created a lot of ire with some customers over the years who were unable to wrap their heads around any non traditional approach to a non traditional Chinese dish.

The Lo Mein featured fresh vegetables and offered no surprises so both Joe and I found this dish to meet expectations.

Moving on to the Thai side of the menu, I dug in to the Phad See Ew. I was offered the choice of mild, medium or hot on my space level. Since I was not familiar with the baseline heat of Ho Toy I opted for medium which I would rate at a 6 on a 10 point scale for heat and spice. This dish combined wide egg noodles about the size of a tortilla chip, broccoli, carrots, napa cabbage and eggs in a flavorful brown sauce.

I had visions of a Kahiki racing through my head when I ordered a lunch time Mai Tai. However, there was no umbrella and a only trace of alcohol in the pint sized concoction I was served so my dreams were dashed.

Overall we found the menu to resemble the Lake Woebegone of Chinese and Thai food, everything was above average at an average price. If you are a downtown worker or visitor Ho Toy is worth dropping in for a nice lunch with a side of time warping travel to the 1980’s or earlier. If you happen to host a progressive retro dinner club, this would be the right environment to eat your daddy’s Chow Mein. You will also find a bit of dining history from other places on your table.

Our server was friendly and diligently answered my numerous questions about pretty much everything.

When you make you haj to Ho Toy, I’d suggest a trip to the second floor. In my case, it was necessitated by a need to go to the only functional restroom but I discovered a nice view of the Statehouse (see the photo below) as well as some interesting bathroom “humor” (see the photo below the majestic view).

Ho Toy Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Lois Mann’s Restaurant – Southside

Posted by cmh gourmand on March 14, 2018

It is easy to drive by and miss Lois Mann’s. The restaurant resides in a nondescript building on South High Street just north of SR 104. The current location is in the Reeb-Hosack Steelton Village neighborhood. The area has some Hungarian roots but often gets lost in the mix of Southside neighborhoods and villages. Lois Mann’s opened at the present spot just over five years ago, but the name had a thirty plus year history on Parsons Avenue.

This restaurant came to my attention when there was a brief buzz about a special Hungarian menu they were running on the weekends. On my day of arrival for a lunch time scouting mission, I found out that the Hungarian chef had moved on. Luckily for me, Lois Mann’s has a long history of dishing out comfort food classics. As I sat waiting for lunch, I had an opportunity to roam around the space and soak in a bit of history. Upon entering I had noticed an interesting assortment of items at the counter including but not limited to: candy canes, perfume, dolls, a Star Wars shower curtain, holiday decorations and a variety of CD’s. So in addition to serving food, Lois Mann’s is also an eclectic emporium with flea market fare. The other element that came to my attention is the pervasiveness of music in the space. There is a small stage near the front entrance. Guitars, many with names written on them, line a side wall just near the ceiling. Framed photos featuring legends of Country, Bluegrass and Rockabilly music decorate the walls showing the likenesses of the likes of Loretta Lynn, The Stanley Brothers and Jimmy Martin.

The dining area consists mainly of a multitude of four top tables. Seating is comfortable and an eclectic as the mixes of silverware on the table. Vintage music plays softly in the background. On my two visits, the place was lightly populated with a few regular customers who knew the menu and the staff was well as their family and neighbors. My first selection was cabbage rolls. While many might question how traditional this interpretation of cabbage rolls might be, I found this version to be superior. The dish looked like someone had travelled back in time to visit my home in the 1980’s and stole a large serving of the cabbage rolls my father made with great frequency. I’m not sure where in the mountains of southwestern West Virginia he found his interpretation of this dish but the version I was eating at Lois Mann’s was at least cloned from the meals of my youth. The meat to rice ratio was dead on. The tomato sauce had a strong consistency and flavor of tomato paste to it. My sides were not all quite as good. The green beans were a bit bland and lacked any discernible seasoning. The mashed potatoes might be better described as leaning towards whipped, but they had a great consistency and featured a gravy that would do MCL proud. I rarely find cornbread in Columbus that meets my exacting if non-traditional standards but I found my serving to be large, flavorful and flakey. I also tried the house potato soup while waiting for the meal described above. I thought this was fantastic. The soup was very dense, thick and filling. I found out on a future visit that not all of the soups are homemade, this one tasted like it, but if it is not, I’ll pick up a can on my next drop in.

On my first visit I spied an intimidating serving of spaghetti and meatballs a few tables over from me. I knew that was destined to be my next lunch and it was. This meal is far from authentic Italian but it brought back memories of any Columbus area Italian dining I experienced as a child. The mound of spaghetti noodles were buried in a rich, flavorful red sauce with a 2:1 ratio of sauce to meat. The meatballs were small and a bit spongy but had a consistentcy I recalled from elementary school cafeterias. It was served with a length of bread that was layered with plenty of powdered garlic. This meal generally comes with a salad but I asked if I could sub out for cole slaw instead. Longtime readers may have picked up over the years that I have a high standard for slaw that rarely leads to anything other than disappointment. What I like is very similar to what one might find at KFC but more flavorful. This is exactly what Lois Mann’s serves and I confirmed that they do make this in house. I’d rank this a 9.2 on my 10 point slaw scale. This second lunch was the epitome of a comfort food classic.

Lois Mann’s Restaurant is a place where time stands still. If you are looking for a hangout that will transport you to the 1970’s in terms of food, music, decor and clientele, this is a great fit for you. I think it is worth the effort. Fridays and Saturdays feature live music and later hours. If you are looking for a more sedate lunch, this is a great south side spot. The restaurant serves breakfast all day but that is not my gig. I will say taking a look at the massive breakfast portions featuring frying pan sized steak and ham servings, I’d be very tempted to go out of character and come back for breakfast too.

Post script: I do not think I have expanded on a critical item I look for at restaurants – the size, quality and consistency of ice. I then to lean towards pelletized ice but I found the format at Lois Mann’s to be exceptional for my serving of Coke in a can.

Lois Mann's Family Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Yogis Hoagies – The Original (Morse Road)

Posted by cmh gourmand on February 10, 2018

Yogi’s Hoagies

Let us begin with a study of sandwiches and sandwich culture. Sandwiches are ubiquitous. However in Central Ohio we don’t display the same love of John Montagu’s creation as Philadelphia, most of the northeast coast, any place In Australia I have roamed or for that matter much of the English-speaking world. These locales celebrate sandwiches by placing a mom and pop sandwich shop on nearly every corner slinging out infinite combinations of breads, cheeses, meats and vegetables. In these hallowed sandwich spots, purveyors further define their wares with terms like Submarine, Torpedo, Grinder, Hero and Hoagie. A Hoagie in particular, can trace origins to Philadelphia,, specifically to the residents of the Hog Island area. In Columbus, we never seemed to connect with a sandwich sub-culture unless you count chains like Jersey Mikes and Jimmy Johns. We do have an a few exceptions to our oddly obstructive approach to getting sandwiched.

These are two Yogi’s Hoagies in Central Ohio. One is in Westerville. The second is on Morse Road, in the Woodward Park neighborhood. Doing some rough calculating, I determined that I have driven by this location a minimum of 500 instances in my lifetime, more realistically, probably well over 1000. I never dined there once, although I’ve been to the Vietnamese place next door at least thrice.

While doing some research on Westerville for a project, I came across both listings for Yogi’s and notices the Morse Road Yogi’s had over the top rating on all of the food based rating sites. How could I have missed this place? Looking at the menu, I spied that had the word “Original” in the company name and the notation of 1977. Again, how could I have missed this place. Then as I dug deep into the menu and observed an overwhelming array of selections I determined I was not going to miss this place again.

Finding myself determined to right my error in eating, I felt an obligation to Yogi’s to really give it a detailed assessment in case my first selection was not the business at it’s best. For any situation involving my level a research which means eating the amount of food suitable for five hungry adults I try to take at least one person with me to split sandwiches. My reluctant assistant, or the Boo Boo Bear to my Yogi on this task (to fill up my Pic-a-nic Baskeet) was the notorious Grumpy Old Man.

(Note, while checking if this is a correct spelling of Boo Boo I came across this description on said bear: “Boo-Boo is Yogi Bear’s constant companion, and often acts as his conscience. He tries (usually unsuccessfully) to keep Yogi from doing things he should not do, and also to keep Yogi from getting into trouble..”. The Grumpy Old Man may not be my constant companion and rarely keeps me out of trouble but he does try to restrain by consumption).

On our first recon mission to Yogi’s our selections were the Franken-Hoagie, the Super Italian Hoagie, Chicken Noodle soup and a Chicken Salad and Cheese Bagel Sandwich allowing a diversity of items to be properly evaluated.

The chicken noodle soup was house made. It was just OK. I think it needs a stronger broth base and would have benefited from several more hours in a crock pot. These limitations combined with a smaller serving for $2.99 took this off my list of items to try again.

The chicken salad in the bagel sandwich was really good. It had good chicken flavor and a nice balance of mayonnaise and seasonings without being too wet or too dry. I’d try it again but next time in a hoagie format. The bagel was fairly generic and bland. It would have benefited from toasting to add a bit of flavor and to create a stronger barrier to any soaking from the chicken salad.

The Super Italian Hoagie features salami, ham, cheese with lettuce, tomato, onion, banana peppers, olive oil and oregano. What adds the Super to the name is extra meat and cheese. This was a good sub and very filling in the 8-inch version. I think the regular (non-super) Italian version would not have had enough mass for me.

The menu item which most intrigued me was the Franken-Hoagie described as “a Monster Hoagie, filled with Salami, Ham, Turkey, Roast Beef & Provolone with Tomatoes, Banana Peppers, Onions, Olive Oil, and Oregano! Use At Least Two Hands!” This was my favorite of what I sampled on the first scouting mission and I would gladly return for this sandwich even though I was able to eat it with just one hand.

After the eating was over, I had an opportunity to sit back and observe my surroundings without being distracted by lunch meats. The set up of Yogi’s is a time warp to the late 1970’s when the establishment opened. The knick knacks and bric-a-brac on the walls are a hodgepodge of pop culture nostalgia of the 1950’s and 1960s. Any independent establishment in 1970’s Columbus I can recall (vaguely) showcased the same type of decor. There is a mix of beer cans, John Wayne photos, toys and a wooden paddle noted to be from Mister J. Allen, Room 304 at North High School. In the background music played from an old juke box with selections such as Elvis Presley, The Chi Lites and Albert Hammond.

A significant bonus point is awarded to Yogi’s for chip diversity. There is a rack of potato chips to select from as sides for many menu items and some daily specials. These are from harder to find Ohio potato chip makers Jones and Grippos.

I’ll dish out some historical notes on the business. It opened April 1st 1977. The current owner was the manager there for eighteen years before taking over as owner. The website notes that this is the Original Yogi’s Hoagies so the location in Westerville, which has similar signage, must be a remnant from empire building in the past.

On subsequent trips other I tried a few other items. I was intrigued by the pizza options offered. One is a French bread pizza which brought back memories of the 1980’s. I also spied Roman Pizza. There are several different definitions and interpretations of what this means in the world of pizza production. (I would defer to this definition as definitive). In the case of Yogi’s I’m not sure of the pedigree of their pizza. It reminds me of school cafeteria pizza. The crust, sauce and cheese were seemingly disconnected – all are present but they do not seem to intersect or co-mingle with each other, it was easy to remove the entire cheese layer from each slice with no effort.

Roman Pizza

Pizza at Yogis

I also tried the Garlic Steak (patty) Hoagie. The Garlic was strong, very strongly infused in the bread. If you feel compelled to get this selection, request cheese, maybe a lot of cheese.

I tried the meatball sub. It was above average, for this selection, I would also suggest requesting it with extra cheese and perhaps asking them to cook it longer.

All in all this is a good family owned business worth visiting. My survey and assessment indicates commonalities in each visit. The bread is always fresh. I’m not sure where they source their bread from but it is not Auddinos. The standard sandwich sizes are 8 inches or 16 inches so servings are substantial. The service is friendly and the prices are fairly fair for the quality and quantity received. The only item I would rush back for would be the Franken-Hoagie based on my visits to date but there is a lot more on the menu I have not tried. If you find a great item not covered in this review let me know.

Yogi's Hoagies & Dairy Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Vick’s Gourmet Pizza, Reynoldsburg

Posted by cmh gourmand on December 21, 2017

Vick’s Gourmet Pizza has a history going back by name to 1961. It also has a pre history with the founders working at CY’s Pizza and 3C Pizza in 1958.

Doug Vickers’ is the current owner of Vicks. His parents, Hollis and Louise, opened the original Vick’s. Doug and his wife Charlotte took it over 36 years ago. Vicks moved to the current location in 2017, just two store front down from the original. Looking at old reviews, the new location is a BIG upgrade in space and atmosphere from the original. The new space is in the former location of Connell Hardware which started as a family business in 1872. The building has a lot of history to it with Vick’s incorporating the best elements of the space create a comfortable and inviting atmosphere. There is ample seating as well as a fully stocked bar seating area.

A local institution like Vick’s could get away with cutting a few corners but they don’t. Almost everything is made in house except the desserts. The dough is made fresh and hand tossed. The sauces are slow cooked. There is no sign of skimping on high quality ingredients.

I have sampled two pizzas. The extreme pepperoni which pairs dense layers of spicy and mild pepperoni. I also tried the Greek Pizza which tossed these ingredients together: Artichoke hearts, Black Olives, Sun-dried
Tomatoes wither Feta and Asiago cheeses. The pizza is a few millimeters thicker than the typical Columbus style pizza and the crust edge has a satisfying crunch that is neither to hard or crumbling. I discovered the kitchen uses a very high gluten flour which adds a bit to the density and flavor of the pizza dough.

I was even more impressed with the subs. The meatball sub was one of the best I have sampled. There was plenty of sauce and meatballs on the sandwich. The cheese was thick and dense with just a trace of char on the edges. The sauce was flavorful, well-seasoned and tasted slow cooked. The bun was sturdy and held up to the weight of the meatballs. Doing some deep research, I discovered the sub buns are shipped in from a highly respected bakery in Pittsburgh. The meatballs contain applesauce for moistness and the sauce is cooked with the sausage.

As I was walking out after my first visit, I commended Mr. Vickers on a very good meatball sub. He thanks me and then strongly suggested I try the Italian sub next time because the “capicola is out of this world”. When I tried the Italian sub on my next visit, I found it was perfectly cooked with a nice meat to cheese ratio but not over seasoned or dressed. The bottom bun had a trace of mayo thinly spread along the length to keep the bun from disintegrating from the grease.

I don’t have cause to visit Reynoldsburg in my day to day doings, but Vick’s is well worth the trip if you want subs and grub with a gourmet approach to quality ingredients.

Vick's Gourmet Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Creole Kitchen 2.0 (Dine in Seating)

Posted by cmh gourmand on December 3, 2017

It was a long time coming and a long time in getting around to writing about it, but something big happened in late 2016. Creole Kitchen expanded to offer dine in seating. That might not seem like a big deal but if you read my original post from 2013 you might be inclined to agree with me. If you need a bit of icing on that cake of convincing, then try a serving of -> this.

We don’t have many creole options in Columbus. My first introduction was Harold’s Cajun Glory Cafe in the 1990’s which closed many years ago. After several years of Cajun purgatory I stumbled upon Creole Kitchen. As a largely carry-out operation in a lightly traveled part of the central city, Creole Kitchen stayed off most culinary radars. That was OK in my blog/book, I was happy to keep it to myself and minimize my wait time in line. When I spied the sign in 2013 indicating a dining room would be opening soon, I knew it would be a game changer for Chef Butcher and his kitchen. But 2014 and 2015 came and went. At the beginning of 2016, I was still cautiously optimistic. Towards the end of the year, the good news came to me the space was finally open. Nearly one year later, I was able to finally have the full Creole Kitchen experience. And just to be safe, I made sure to try it out twice before writing about the experience.

The food remains the same. The advantage of the new space is seating. This means more chairs, but more importantly, the right type access for those that would not seek out food in a styrofoam container. The carry out side of the business remains business as usual, the space is unchanged. A year later, at least for the lunch crowd, I think the community us still getting accustomed to an eat in option. The space is simple, nice but not fancy. The dining room is open with tables spread out instead of crammed in to maximize profit. There is a relaxed atmosphere throughout that is mirrored by staff. There are no “faux” creole, Cajun, etc., knick knacks mounted on the wall. In lieu of something not connected to the heritage of the place there is artwork reflecting the community and the musical history of the neighborhood.

One change in service with the restaurant, when asked about the level of heat for each dish the scale is presented as 1 to 5. Five is hot, but at Creole Kitchen heat is about flavor not how many taste buds can be burned out from heat.

The is only one significant difference between the carry out and the dine in experience, how the food is presented. In some instances, it is downright pretty. Another difference, that depends on your disposition and that of your fellow diners is that you now have a chance to talk to someone else about what you are going to have or what you are having. In my two visits to the new space, I have had the pleasure to share conversations about what I like and what I want to try next with those around me.

I’ll share some of my meals below.

I’m not going to go into detail about the food, the photos speak for themselves (and my old blog posts) but I am going to offer a few suggestions for dining in. First, whatever, you order, make sure to get a side of macaroni and cheese. It is the perfect starch to pair with anything on your plate. I’d also suggest a side of bread. This is used to soak in any small amount of sauce that does not cling to your meal. An order of bread ensures nothing is wasted or left behind. Another thing you can do in the restaurant side of Creole Kitchen…is tip. Tip big because the servers waited a long time for a chance to serve you.

Creole Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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

Posted by cmh gourmand on November 12, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • For more information on the area, visit AthensOhio.

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

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

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

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

    Don’t Bypass Nelsonville, The Star of the Hocking Hills

    Posted by cmh gourmand on October 29, 2017

    image of nelsonville fountain

    Fountain in Nelsonville

    When a bypass of Nelsonville on State Route 33 was completed several years ago many wondered about Nelsonville’s future. Would people forget about what Nelsonville had to offer? Would the character of the community change? For me, as a long time fan of area, this bypass as well as several others created along the same route shaved a few minutes off my sojourns to Athens but they did not make me forget what else I loved about the area.. I did not miss getting stuck in traffic in Lancaster, Nelsonville and elsewhere along 33 while on my way to reconnect with all the Hocking Hills has to offer. I found the bypasses, created more byways to explore the region whereas before I was focused on a mission to endure to commute to get to Athens by a certain time to beat the traffic.

    Revisiting Nelsonville, I found a community that has even more to offer than I recalled. I found the lack of commuter traffic I was accustomed to from before the bypass was refreshing. The lack of cranky commuters streaming through the center of town made the community feel more intimate as well as inviting and in my case, much more relaxing. All of the things I enjoyed in my past visits to are still here and getting even better. Rhapsody the student staffed restaurant is expanding space and hours. Stuart’s Opera House, my favorite small concert venue in Ohio is being extensively renovated and will be even better in the near future. Nelsonville offers the ubiquitous small town experience (good enough for the movies if you have seen Mischief).

    The character of Nelsonville is defined by two key things: bricks and boots. Specifically Star Bricks and Rocky Boots. Let’s start with Star Bricks. This brick and many other bricks types define this part of the state. The Star Bricks were considered the finest sidewalk pavers of their era and any community or individual in the United States that wanted to showcase a walkway had only one clear choice, Star Bricks. You will find these in (pre 1930) upscale neighborhoods all over the country. The brick industry in this region paved the streets of the nation as well (in Columbus you will see how well these bricks have held up for over 100 years in German Village and The Brewery District). Stroll the Public Square of Nelsonville to appreciate the craftsmanship of Star bricks and the beautiful fountain in the center of the square. If you are an Ohio Brick nerd like me you will see exhibits about the bricks at different businesses in the area and you will see the Star brick image integrated into shirts and more.

    As for boots, those would Rocky Boots, a local company with a history that goes back to 1932. However, the real story is how this home-grown company beat the odds as an independent boot and shoe maker with innovative outdoor boots they created in the 1980’s. I drove by Rocky Boots for years, assuming is was just a factory outlet for boots. When I dropped in for a visit at the Rocky Outlet Gear Store I found much more than an outlet. The store serves as an outfitter offering everything you would need to provision yourself for exploring Hocking Hills. Obviously there is a tremendous selection of boots and shoes as well as outerwear, kids clothes, camping and hiking equipment, grilling supplies, etc. This outlet is more of a basecamp for any activity you would want to pursue in the area. As a little insider tip, on the top floor you can get some great view of Nelsonville and the surrounding area. The Boot Grill serves as the heart of the building and in many ways the community. In addition to offering their signature Bison Burger, the restaurant serves a wide variety breakfast, lunch and dinner options as well as a specialty “bar” every day with a different daily feature such as hot dogs, fried chicken, shrimp and etc. In addition to giving visitors the chance to fuel up for their next adventure the grill serves as a community meeting place with a core group of residents dropping by several days a week to catch up on what is going on in Nelsonville.

    After wandering around Rocky Boots for an hour and not feeling like I barely scratched the service, I set out to explore downtown Nelsonville. My first stop was Fullbrooks Cafe. The menu offers much more than would seem possible in this small, intimate space. In addition to a wide selection of coffee and drinks, Fullbrook’s serves serval backs goods, soups, sandwiches and several daily specials. Like many independent eateries in the area, they are focused on a menu that sources local foods as much as possible. I tried a fresh scone and was able to get a small sample of a delicious soup I caught a whiff of as soon as I entered the door. Fullbrooks is a great spot to catch a snack while traveling through the square. The shop offers extended hours for events in town or when there are shows at Stuarts Opera House.

    Exploring the town square, I took a quick tour of Stuart’s Opera House which is wrapping up renovations to expand the space while retaining the character and history of the building. Walking along the Star Brick paved streets I explored shops that sold all type of crafts, quilts, art and more. Many of the businesses focus on items handcrafted by locals or sourced from materials in the region.

    All of the above can be good diversions to entertain you while you wait for a ride on the Hocking Valley Scenic Railway. A variety of weekend train adventures are offered including the very popular Easter Bunny & Egg Hunt, Santa Train and Train Robbery where bandits board the train and rob you (on purpose).

    If two wheeled adventures are more your thing, then you have the HockHocking Adena Bikeway which will take you to Athens and back on a bike. And if craft beer is your even more your thing, then you can use this to explore craft beverage destinations in both locales via Brewed on the Bikeway.

    Finally on this adventure, I found the answer to a question that has been pestering me for over 25 years, what is the story of the cross on the hill overlooking the city. I have driven past this for decades and really noticed it on night time drives home when it is illuminated. I convinced my local guide to help me find my way to the top of the hill which is where I learned the story.

    The cross is a simple tribute from a husband to a deceased wife but also a monument to a community of people who helped the cross find a home on the hill. An interesting side note, an earthquake (really) knocked the cross down on the late 1980’s but several people worked together to get it reconstructed. There were many twists and turns on the road leading to the cross but when I arrived I was glad to chip another item off of my Nelsonville bucket list. (Note: by report this may be the largest illuminated cross in North America or the World, but I could not find documentation to confirm this. I can say, it is big.)

    To find out more about what to do in Nelsonville, Hocking Hills and the region, visit Athens County Ohio.

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