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Awadh: An Addendum to Indian Buffet Battle & An Education in Pani Puri

Posted by cmh gourmand on November 14, 2018

What first brought me to Awadh was a pressing need to find an easy access public bathroom at Carriage Place Shopping Center because at I really had to pee. It being a Monday, Awadh was not open (that is changing soon) but the $8.99 Lunch Buffet sign put the restaurant high on my radar for a later, less pressing trip after I finished one of the lower level needs on Maslow’s pyramid. In the past, I spent a lot of time at the movie theater and restaurants of Carriage Place located near the Northeast corner of Bethel Road and Sawmill. Today, I mainly go to the area to donate blood, but, I had a new opportunity to drive the length of the Carriage Place Shopping Center (with a lot of focus) and see everything that has changed over the years – many of the restaurants have moved on and some new but familiar faces like Fitzy’s Diner have become part of the landscape.

I dropped into to Awadh the next day with pretty low expectations. The name of the space is a bit confusing. While the main signage says Awadh, there are numerous posters on the windows suggesting it may be called TGIXpress as well. One migh think it is a bar due to one large poster that is selling beer specials. The spot is small, seating 40 to 50 with some creativity and does feel “new” which is appropriate, it has only been open five months. I was greeted warmly by a very friendly hostess and I was followed in by two regular customers who were known by name and beverage preference upon arrival. I excused myself to the bathroom when I entered (this time in a less pressing manner than the day before) and by the time I returned, there was a plate with warm, fresh samosa waiting for me. The hostess mentioned this comes with the buffet and the the kitchen wants to make sure these are always as fresh and warm as possible for customers upon arrival.

Settling in, I spied ten entrée dishes available to sample as well as naan and Bhature (a puffier, slighty sweet bread), a bit of salad, chutneys, and two desserts offered at the buffet. The offerings during my visit were: Asian Style Noodles with cabbage and vegetables, Chili Potatoes, Cauliflower Potato Curry, Saag Paneer, Chicken Pea Curry (noted as Chole), Basmati Rice, Chicken Tika Masala, Chicken Biryani, Goat Curry and Tandoori Chicken.

Each dish was well labeled, looking appetizing and fresh. Entree were set up in smaller batches in the holding table so they could be rotated quickly. I found each of the dishes to be good. My favorite was the Chicken Biryani which featured whole chicken wings.

My memorable experience of this trip occurred when I made my last run to the buffet. The hostess had checked on me many times and seemed to enjoy my many questions about the business and food. She may have admired my dedication to research as I thoroughly tested out each dish. I had fallen off her radar for just a few moments which allowed the next faux pas to happen since I was unsupervised. The photo below shows how to not put together a Pani Puri. In my defense, oddly, this is not a dish I have had before, which is saying a lot since I am a long time fan of Indian cuisine.

The hostess noted my erroneous attempt and kindly walked over to me before I returned to my table. She quietly and discreetly asked me if I had Pani Puri before. I said no and looking at what I had in my dish and her look at it, I realized I had missed the mark by a mile. She then politely showed me how to construct it properly – breaking the delicate little ball of hollow, fried puri and filling it and then surrounding it with everything I had not topped it with. I was a good learning moment for me and a good opportunity for me to help her with finding the right English words to use as she struggled to walk me through some of the steps of purveying puri to my plate. I like an opportunity to learn during my meal and I was very impressed with how the hostess graciously guided me down the right path.

Jumping back to the buffet battle series from 2016, the Indian Edition, following the buffet battle format here are my initial ratings of Awadh as I make an addendum.

Value 5
Quality 4
Quantity 4.25
Highlight: friendly and attentive service and a clear desire to continue to improve the business and grow new customers
Kid Friendly Quotient 4 (some booths are kid friendly and CMH Griffin and I can pop in easily since his school is just around the corner).

Other bits of knowledge you may find helpful. Awadh is a region in Northern / North Central India. Pani puri is a common street snack in several regions on Nepal and India. It is presented as a round, hollow puri, fried crisp and filled with a mixture of flavored water, tamarind chutney, chili, chaat masala, potato, onion or chickpeas. My bill came to $9.66 with tax (my beverage was water). It was a good value for both the experience and the quality of food offered.


TGIXpress Bistro & Bar – Awadh India Restaurant
awadhindiarestaurant.com

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Posted in Buffet Battle, culinary misadventure, restaurants | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Happy Hour at Rockmill Tavern

Posted by cmh gourmand on November 8, 2018

Rockmill Tavern has a lot to offer and that is not just me, who is likely to be biased, saying that. It was voted best new restaurant when it opened in fall 2017. It has been a top ten restaurant in Columbus in both 2017 and 2018. A big part of this is Chef Andrew Smith and his focus on great, local when possible ingredients that pair well with Rockmill Brewery beers in particular, Belgian styles. Another part of this is the freedom owner Matt Barbee gives the kitchen to do their thing. Matt is no slacker when it come to food pairings and an eye for good ingredients and great talent. All in all the front of the house and the back of the house work well together to deliver a good meal consistently. Over the last year, Rockmill Tavern has been quietly crafting and testing the waters for a happy house menu. It launched over the summer with little fanfare. The offerings, which are still occasionally tweaked, have consistently make me happy. It was recently announced that Chef Smith will be leaving Rockmill Tavern to embark on a new culinary venture adventure but he leaves behind a tightly run kitchen that can execute what he crafted and maybe even crank it up a notch.

Below you can see the current offerings. My guess is some items may ebb and flow over the winter but the key elements will stay the same and keep me coming back. The most critical element of the happy hour is the price point – nothing is over $5. Additionally, each item is designed to be a hefty snack but each offering showcases something from the kitchen you typically do not see on the menu or at least with a different preparation. The Happy Hour runs Tuesday to Friday from 3 to 6 P.M. often paired with a beer special.

If you have never been to Rockmill Tavern, you have probably heard at least one word associated with the menu – biscuit(s). These are so good, in any format – large or small, with or without a massive egg or something sweet or something savory that one local young lady will honor them as currency. Ms. Cheryl Harrison, a local expert on beer, bacon, board games and biscuits, values a Rockmill biscuit over even Bitcoin. The Happy Hour menu offers a mini version of the biscuits and for $3 per order why not have several and if you know Cheryl, take a few home for her.

An unexpected item in the menu is an English standby, Tea Sandwiches. Why, do you you say, should a Belgian inspired Taproom, in the heart of the Midwest and apparently as red as can be, offer a British afternoon staple? And I say back, why not old chap or my lady, they are quite good and provide just enough tasty carbs to carry one over to the next draft.

A crowd pleaser, which also find their way onto (OSU) game day menus (because….America) are the Adobo Wings. These are whole marinated Filipino style wings served crispy with a hint spice and Korean pickles to offset the heat and accentuate the flavor of the offering.

Last and not least, because this is a personal favorite is the Croque Monsieur. This mini sandwich makes perfect sense since it is a traditional French bar snack. This Sandwich is always offered with a fried egg (unless you opt to decline the egg which would be foolish) which technically makes this sandwich a Croque Madam. Gender confusion aside, this simple sandwich, is simply divine and one of my favorite food items of 2018. The quality of the bread paired with Muenster cheese and Prosciutto creates a messy although perfect blend of layers to make for a delicious sandwich. The eggs at Rockmill are sourced from Amish farms making the fired egg just a bit better and typically fresher, often same day fresh. The flavors of all of these ingredients exceed even the very high quality of the individual parts. At $5 per sandwich, this item meets my current budgetary restrictions and this snack has saved me from having a totally shitty day on more than one occasion this year.

There is no good reason not to have this happy hour on your end of the year bucket list so go do this.

Rockmill Tavern
Brewery District
503 South Front Street
plenty of parking all around

Posted in Locally Sourced, restaurants | 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 »

The Boat House at Confluence Park: Dinner and a View with a Nod to 1958

Posted by cmh gourmand on October 12, 2018

I know you have heard, I don’t get around much anymore. However, CMH Spouse and I had an unprecedented third date night for the year. We went to the Boat House at Confluence Park. This is a spot we have been to once in the past while CMH Spouse was pregnant. This is where we told CMH My Mother that CMH Spouse was with child. That was a big deal, for a lot of reasons. This time, it was just a big deal for us to be out of the house and feeling alright about doing so. I will be forthright in sharing that we were there as guests of the Boat House for a big deal for them, the sixtieth anniversary of Specialty Restaurants Corporation the operators of nationally known restaurants including the Boat House, The Rusty Pelican, 100th Bomb Group and 94th Aero Squadron.

My mission, which I gladly chose to accept was to try out the 1958 Reef Throwback Menu offered to celebrate the anniversary of the company. This special menu is offered through October 21st and features signature dishes from The Reef which opened in 1958 as the first restaurant in the company.

It was good to get reacquainted with the Boat House after a four-year absence. I recall a day in my past when it was easy for me to keep my list of restaurants I wanted to try out very short, but in the last five years, the number of good options has increased exponentially and my opportunities to try them out has decreased factorially. I drive by the Boat House almost weekly as I go about my duties in the city but I had forgotten some of inherent perks this restaurant has to offer. First, parking, parking, parking! Most restaurants we seek out do not have much in the way of easy parking so it was refreshing to have our pick of spots close to the entrance. Second, location, location, location! The Boat House rests at the confluence of the Scioto and Olentangy rivers offering an exceptional view of downtown Columbus. The evening we visited offered absolutely perfect patio weather (observationally, I would say 2018 has offered the city three evenings as climatically perfect as our night out so I am glad we snagged the last one this year is likely to offer). I had never dined outside at the Boat House or in the past when the site was called River Club however within a few seconds I decided this is an experience I could easily get attached to. Our view was great, our table was comfortable and we were in the care of a phenomenal server.

We started out with the house bread. Bread service seems to have lost favor in the world of current dinning trends but I miss that tradition. As our household has been largely gluten-free for the last five months, we both missed our good friend gluten and were happy to dive into the loaf of bread offered to us. The bread was light yet filling. It is proofed and baked in-house and lightly brushed with butter, parmesan cheese and roasted organic garlic.

At this point our drinks arrived. We sampled two signature cocktails, Dave’s Margarita and a classic Mai Tai. The margarita is named for SRC’s founder and World War II veteran, David Tallichet since this was his favorite in-house drink. He added his signature to the classic drink by showcasing fresh lime juice and orange liqueur, for the anniversary version of Dave’s namesake drink the restaurant adds Camarena Tequila, Grand Marnier Italia and Cointreau. Served with a slice of lime and hardy glaze of salt on the rim, this was by far the best margarita I have had in a long while. The Mai Tai was a treat as well. It reminded me of days past at the Kahiki. Most of the Mai Tai’s I’ve had in this decade were disappointing, The Boat House did not fail me on this cocktail, it was one of the best of the style I have tried.

Moving on along to appetizers, I enjoyed the Throwback special of a crab cake with Tiki sauce, fresh mango was a highlight of the tower of tiki inspired ingredients resting atop the crab cake on my plate. As CMH Spouse is intensely allergic to mango so opted for the house crab cake (lump crab with a spicy remoulade). Having lived in Maryland for ten years, she found these crab cakes meet her high standards.

Not on the Throwback menu, but definitely something I would throwback all night is the calamari. At the Boat House, the squid is sourced from Rhode Island and never frozen. The breading is infused with buttermilk and served with a mildly spicy Thai sauce. The flavor of this dish was great, it was clearly fresh and was not over-fried or greasy in any way. We also discovered that the remoulade from the crab cake was an outstanding alternative dipping sauce for the calamari.

My next course on the Throwback menu was Teriyaki steak with jasmine rice and steamed broccoli. This was a simple, straight forward dish. My steak was perfectly cooked and marinated. While the steak did not need the sauce served with it, the blend of flavors in the sauce perfectly accentuated the steak and went well with both the rice and broccoli when I was so inclined to drizzle some on each.

CMH Spouse dined on the Pan Seared Tasso Chicken which was a chicken breast served with sliced marble potatoes, asparagus and Tasso ham with all parts of the dish swimming in creole cream sauce. When my wife started to fill up with plenty left on her plate, I gallantly offered to finish it for her. We both loved the rich flavors offered in this recipe. The Boat House will be launching a new menu for the season later this month so we were happy to hear this entrée would continue through the winter.

Last and not least on the Throwback Menu was Pineapple cheese cake. This dessert was executed brilliantly. The slice was generous in size, the crust of the cake held up to the weight of the cake filling itself with the flavors in both complimenting each other nicely. The pineapple was gently piled on top but added a noticeable pop of flavor to each bite. This was not something dumped out of a vacuum sealed bag, it was fresh pineapple diced, then cooked down with sugar.

I’ll also restate again, our server was phenomenal. I apologize to her for not asking for the proper spelling of her name, but “Raye” was friendly and fun while being both poised and professional. She had deep knowledge of all of the dishes both on the regular menu and the 1958 Reef Throwback menu and made good recommendations to us throughout the evening. While she has only been at the Boat House for ten months her depth of knowledge might suggest to first time guests that she had been there for many years.

I enjoyed the 1958 Reef Throwback Menu as well as my wife’s selections for dinner. We could not have had a better evening and I appreciated the opportunity to do something fun with my wife knowing that everything would be great as soon as we entered the threshold. We were so stuffed we had to head home instead of dropping in to Seventh Son, the site of our wedding which was one of our last big nights out, so for CMH Spouse to decline an opportunity to extend an evening means we did not need to add to an already perfect experience. Thanks Boat House and happy anniversary to the company.

Where to dine:
The Boathouse at Confluence Park
679 West Spring Street
(where the Scioto meets the Olentangy River)
(614) 469-0000


The Boat House Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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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

Posted in restaurants | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

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.

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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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