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PVR Gourmand

Posted by CMH Gourmand on February 21, 2010

My room with a view

While Columbus endured the Snowpocolypse, I was acclimating to the life of the leisure class on a beach in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. My holiday was an opportunity to catch up on my reading (three books), enjoy the company of old and new friends and explore a part of the food world that has much meaning to me after a year of Taco Truck research. The states of Jalisco and neighboring Nayarit are homes to many taco slingers in Columbus so I took a peek at the street food they grew up on. In Puerto Vallarta I saw a large number of hot dog carts as well but none were open when I was in eating mode. Each night I dined on the better cuisine of the city while searching for the best margarita and mojito.

Those prices are pesos not dollars

One evening the Gourmand party of ten took a siesta from the comida typical for a special five course meal with cooking instruction at Teatro Limon.

The translation is not hard to decipher – Lemon Theater and it is a lemon hued theater of sorts. Chef Bruce Pelon hails from Toronto and has settled nicely in Puerto Vallarta after practicing his craft in several cities. His intimate restaurant is a short cab ride from the Hotel Zone on the north shore of town. The house turned dining den seats about 40 in a setting that feels like eating in someone’s dining room. Guests can see the open kitchen and watch as every ingredient combines into a three or five course meal.

Reservations are (usually) required with the option for the first party to book the night to enjoy as hands on experience as they would like in the preparation of part of their meal. Chef Pelon greets each table and presents a limited selection of entrees to choose from with the rest of the courses served as part of a fixed menu. The food is fresh, simple and local when possible. The ingredients are also accessible – there is a small herb, tomato and pepper garden in courtyard, meats are of the best quality and some ingredients come from…Costco.

As a favor to friends with a forgotten eighteenth wedding anniversary our party made an addition to our reservation – the two best behaved children in the western hemisphere – Michael and Costa. The boys were given the opportunity to create our appetizer with Chef Pelon as we watched on. In this area the chef really excelled. He understands the art of instruction (as well as presentation, marketing and delegation) so within less than twenty minutes the boys had created a non traditional version of Eggs Benedict using puff pastry as a base, perfectly poached eggs and a peppery orange marmalade sauce which is a superior substitute for the typical Hollandaise sauce.

We each learned from this demonstration and picked up a fast and easy method for making a better version of this old dish. The boys had a great time with Chef/Teacher Pelon during a night which clearly exceeded their “babysitting” expectations.

The rest of the dinner included a simple salad, shrimp cocktail, entree (I choose venison) and a terrific Tiramisu. While the meal was expensive (in comparison to our other choices for the week) at $50 per head (not including drinks) the atmosphere, personal attention and quality of the meal made it memorable and well worthwhile.

More of the meal is shown below.

Travel and food are my passions. The best memories of my expeditions are not the destination or (gasp) even the meals but the people encountered in the course of the quest. During every trip I met someone who teaches me something new and I often find a friend that sticks with me for a lifetime. This trip would not have been possible if I had not made and kept a friend while in Australia twenty years ago. I think Michael and Costa will have many memories of their first time in Mexico but I know that the night at Teatro Limon will linger for a lifetime. I also believe Costa will wind up wooing his first girlfriend with an Eggs Benedict recipe he mastered at the age of eight.

Posted in Road Trip, Travelfoodalogue | Tagged: | 5 Comments »

AUS Gourmand: Texas Tasting Notes

Posted by CMH Gourmand on December 22, 2009

The restlessness returned, prodded on by a free flight on Southwest airlines soon to expire, the change of the seasons and my own wayward nature. For the first week of December, I was bound for Austin, Texas with a desire for BBQ, music, sun, and fabulous food adventures. On my past introduction to Austin I was hindered by a timeframe of less than 48 hours and a vegetarian girlfriend. This time around I was on familiar ground; traveling solo, with one of my famous trip plans of attack to fill in the gaps from the past.

My base of operations was the Austin Motel, strategically located in the hippie hip South Congress (SOCO) strip. This motel has been a mainstay on South Congress for over seven decades and has been the winner of the best motel award in Austin most years since 2001. An eclectic, hippy staff and a couple of house cats create a sense of home away from home. The bus stop in front of the motel only adds value to the location. A good public transportation system ensured the 40% of places on my list that I could not walk to were accessible via a $1.50 transit pass that is good for 24 hours.

I immediately went to work fulfilling all of my desires, except the warmth part. My muse distracted me the night before my flight with some late night drinking so I forgot to check the weather to see if I needed to recalibrate my packing for a change in the weather. Upon arrival in Austin, I made a quick correction by picking up a warm and fashionable $5 thrift store sweater.

This year was the year of the taco truck in Columbus so with a better appreciation of street food, I was ready to jump into the offerings of Austin. I counted over fifty trucks, wagons and carts in my travels and was lucky enough to have some of the more notable street vendors within a five-minute walk of my hotel room. Although I took photos of a dozen or more trucks and spoke with several owners, I only sampled the wares of two street food vendors, Hey Cupcake and The Mighty Cone (both within a few blocks of basecamp). Hey Cupcake has had a lot of national press as a mobile cupcake vendor. It is hard not find some appeal in an airstream full of cupcakes. However, I must say, I was nonplussed by their cupcakes – I expected bigger, fresher and better. The Mighty Cone was an interesting concept that I heard about in various Austin blogs. They delivered their goods in cone form (tortilla rolled into a cone) as a means to transport your eats.

Within 200 yards or less of my room were the following local culinary landmarks I sampled: Jo’s Hot Coffee Good Food, Amy’s Ice Cream, Home Slice Pizza, and Cissis Market – which includes a wine bar with Wi-Fi. Many sources have written of these spots at length and each website give a good sense of what the eateries offer so I will move it on over.

About six to eight blocks down on South Congress I had the fortune to enjoy an all-star from my first visit – Magnolia Café – Open 24 hours! as well as a new comfort food discovery – Woodland.

It will suffice to say, I liked what I supped on at each place and they are local favorites for good reasons. I think the Magnola Cafe channels the soul of Austin straight to my belly.

Snack Bar

Right beside the motel was a new addition (as of October 29th) to the SoCo scene. I ate at Snack Bar twice, once for dinner and a second time as my bon voyage breakfast since it was too rainy to go anywhere else.

There is a lot to like about Snack Bar. The place looks like a retro diner from the outside and has preserved many of those elements on the inside. The menu is far from retro and still under development. The owners and servers are earnestly trying to make the place stand out with an creative menu which is different from their SoCo peers and reflects the artistic soul of Bethany Andree who is an artist turned restaurant owner with her computer industry husband.

Scones, muffins, brioche rolls and other baked goods are made in house. The menu features local, organic, gluten free, vegan friendly and environmentally conscious food options wherever possible. They also offer a daily brunch from 7 AM to 4 PM. The dinner menu is divided into American, Latino, European, Mediterranean and Asian themed sections. The proteins range from free-range chicken, salmon, seitan, raised right beef and more.

For breakfast I ordered the Tofu Scramble (well seasoned tofu with leeks, crimini mushrooms, carrot and garlic) served with a potato hash cake and fresh bread. On the side I had one of their global tacos (I took the Asian option): tempeh, scrambled eggs, carmelized onions, grilled pineapple and a trace of peanut sauce. Mighty tasty! The flavors reminded me of a the best vegetarian breakfast I have ever had in Bend, Oregon as well as my beloved but defunct Galaxy Café.

I was happy to see Snack Bar busy on a Sunday morning. I had walked by several times during the week and it was always dead (which prompted my dinner there). It was on my first trip that I was impressed by their local appeal, when I looked at the wall, I saw signs that let me know where the lights (x-mas), aprons (homemade), plants, and art came from. Water was served in chemistry beakers and the silverware was mostly IKEA. If you are in Austin, give this place a try so they too can become a local landmark someday.

Ok, so that covers many of my meals and my initial on foot recon when I first arrived. The SoCo strip is similar to the Short North of Columbus – offering an eclectic mix of independent shops, restaurants and people. Austin is comparable to Columbus in many ways: home to a gigantic university where football is treated as a religion, a state capital, a varied employment mix which has a large number of government and academic workers in a little blue dot surround by a lot of red. Among the retail choices on South Congress is Big Top, one of the best candy stores ever with a working old school soda fountain manned by hipster, slacker youngsters. I timed my arrival with First Thursday which adds later hours to the shops and galleries, free outdoor music everywhere, environmental petition hucksters and evangelical preachers on the street corners and lots of people to the SoCo strip at my doorstep.

My trip had BBQ as a mission objective and that meant leaving Austin on a smoked meat haj to Lockhart, Texas. Lockhart is hailed as the home to two or three of the best BBQ joints in Texas. This has been preached to me by books, TV and the web. The instructor of my Kansas City BBQ Society Certified BBQ Judge class in Indianapolis years ago stated very clearly that it was a sin to visit Texas without paying a call on Lockhart. Considering this was my fourth visit to the Lone Star state, I figured I was pressing my BBQ karma and had best make right with gods of charred meat. I rented a car for the day then made my way to the town of Lockhart and my destiny.

As a brief aside, I was given a PT Cruiser by the rent a car place as an upgrade because they did not have anything else. This was an emotional crisis for me. Every PT Cruiser owner I have encountered is a complete douche bag. I consider PT cruiser ownership akin to a severe personality disorder. I shared some these observations with the staff and customers at Enterprise Rent a Car, and they were inclined to agree with me to the point that they said that if I could wait an extra 15 minutes they could get me an acceptable car. I figured this was some type of Zen atonement for my delay in BBQ pilgrimage. I declined the last minute offer because I was on a timetable. I pressed on.

Sign at Kreuz: Vegetarians Enter Here; Normal Folks Down the Hall

Kreuz Market, (pronounced Kry-Tz) was my first stop. This meat market has been open over one hundred years and has been owned by two families. There was a split in ownership which led to Kreuz moving to the present location about two decades ago. These folks are Texas BBQ purists. The meat slicers at Kreuz are famous for saying “we don’t use sauce because we have nothing to hide”. True that. You walk in and order your meat; it is placed on brown butcher paper with your choice of crackers or out of the bag white bread (or both if you seem like a nice northern cracker and flash your dimples at the eighty year old lady behind the counter). You then move to the dining area where you can choose from a few sides and beverages. A secret, or at least something I was told was not common knowledge, is that the pickle and jalapeño slices are free, so that is all I asked for. Sides at BBQ places are typically offered as an afterthought or an attempt at civility for small children and the aged that might not be able to chew the meat. The beef brisket I had demonstrated the best cookery I have experienced. It was so tender it fell apart due to my long gaze at it.

Serving at Kreuz Market

One minute away (Lockhart is a very small town), I found myself at Blacks BBQ. They are the new kid on the block because they have only been in the business since 1932. Black’s makes up for this transgression by being open 8 days per week. The BBQ and sausage here was also good. There was a wide selection of sides. As the youngsters they are, you can also get some very good house made sauces to slather on your BBQ.

Serving at Blacks

While in Lockhart, I also stepped inside of Smitty’s to pay homage to the original location of the Kreuz Market. In the BBQ bible this is a sacred site. Smitty’s has a respectable BBQ reputation as well but I did not have stomach capacity to sample any more.

Since I had my PT Cruiser for another 21 hours of atonement and a ¾ tank of gas I spent the rest of the day exploring small towns surrounding Austin – San Marcos, Blanco, Johnson City and points (mostly food related) in between. Before heading back to Austin, I made a stop at Texas Hills Vineyard to add a wine tasting to my day. I sampled several respectable estate wines which was an excellent way to wrap up the tail end of the afternoon.

Arriving back in Austin by the early evening, just before the beginning of First Thursday, I decided I wanted to go higher end for dinner. A little outside my walking range on South Lamar was Oliva. This restaurant was named one of the ten best new restaurants of 2009 by Bon Appetit. My meal was excellent and was matched with good service in a relaxed atmosphere. I sat at the bar to get the right angle to watch most of my meal being cooked. The sous chef seemed to have noticed my focus on my food because she took a break to see how I enjoyed my meal and seemed genuinely pleased to hear that I loved it. It you happen to go; arrive early, get a seat at the bar, enjoy the discounted bar menu as part of your meal and definitely get the fries.

Remember that whole sun and warmth aspect to the trip I was hoping for? There seems to be a need to snow in Texas when I am there. While in Dallas for work in 2008, I found myself in the worst blizzard the city had in years. Immediately upon my Wednesday afternoon arrival, panicked weathermen and media helped me feel at home as they predicted the end of the world on Friday (up to two inches of snow!).

I had a tentative tour set up on Friday with the Howie Richey of Texpert Tours. Things worked out weather wise. Howie created a custom tour for me – as he does for all of his customers. As we drove out of Austin, he gave me his insider views on Austin culture and history and took time to point out places I might want to check out during the rest of my trip.

Texas Flora

We hit the backroads of Texas Hill Country where Howie pointed out the flora and the fauna of the area and included a stop at a self-serve farmers market. I sampled two of the better Hill Country wineries (Driftwood Vineyards and Mandola Wines) so I could continue my tasting tour of Texas viniculture. We wrapped up our day and I sopped up the alcohol in my system at another legendary central Texas BBQ destination – Salt Lick BBQ. Howie kept me entertained and informed during our five hour tour and I appreciate him taking on a solo passenger which is as rare as snow in Austin.

All I need to say about Salt Lick is – Damn, that was good! I understand why Austinites who have excellent Austin BBQ choices drive for up to an hour for a taste of the Salt Lick.

mixed grill at The Salt Lick

My Saturday was spent exploring downtown Austin. I started with the Saturday Farmers Market, then moved on to the largest Whole Foods location in the world. I made mandatory trips to Waterloo Records and BookPeople, both of which are hailed as among the best independent stores in the country. I had an early lunch at The Screaming Goat for a taste of their famous breakfast tacos. I then followed a bike trail and parks to get to the State Capital building in time to see a variety of Christmas carols performed in the rotunda. The statehouse is beautiful and full of Texas history. Afterwards, I moved on to the University of Texas campus to explore college life.

I then popped back on the bus and took some time to explore the warehouse district including Tears of Joy (Hot Sauce store).

With a full day under my belt by 3:00 PM, it was time to head back to SoCo basecamp for the South First Saturday for a stroll along the Mexican Mile and to catch the middle part of the Home Slice Carnival of Pizza.

Ok, at this point you are worn out from reading this and I was tuckered out from living it. I took a brief break back at the motel and then went to The Woodlawn for dinner, paying my bill just in time to catch a bus downtown.

My destination for the evening was the Paramount Theatre. After several fast paced days and a bucket of BBQ – I needed to slow down. I had clicked on the Slow Food Austin blog during my research and found out that Edible Austin, Slow Food and etc., were hosting a premiere of the movie Fresh, with events before and after the movie including a Q and A with the director, local farmers and Joel Salatin from Polyface Farms. Weather trapped Joel on the east coast but we were able to see a lot of him in the movie. Fresh provides examples of people engaged in profitable sustainable agriculture and adds more fuel to the fire for needed changes in Big Food and Monoculture. The movie was great and so was the historic venue. It was nice to end my day in a comfortable theatre seat.


You may not know this but the third part of the triumvirate that rules my heart is music (obviously food and travel complete the trio of the passions that light my fire). Austin let me indulge this part of my mission. The Continental Club is across the street from the Austin Motel. On my first night, I walked over for their nightly music happy hour (the band of the night starts at 6:30 PM for $5). I encountered the vilest bartendress of my life who begrudging decided that as one of her three customers in the bar I might be able to have some service in spite of an important 15 minute conversation with a server about TV. This woman seemed intent on showing her disdain for her work. Trying to give her a chance at redemption, I asked her what her best drinks were. She said everything she made was great. I asked for a margarita which appeared to be the one drink she did not like or want to make and was therefore she served the worst I have sampled…..ever! My time with this woman only went downhill from here, to the point where I just wanted to leave. However, having invested $5 to see a band, I was determined to stay. Fortunately out of sight and earshot of this wretched serving wench, I found a Galaga arcade game to focus my rage into while I listened to the bandmembers tell road stories about The Replacements, Tom Petty and other adventures while they waited for their frontman to show. I was glad I stayed for the The Stone River Boys. Two nights later I headed back for Patricia Vonne. There was music everywhere for First Thursday and typically a cowboy minstrel playing for change on SoCo at any hour. I wrapped up my holiday with music in my motel room: next door on a rainy Sunday morning I could hear an alt country duo practicing a new song and working through changes together as I packed my bags.

As is increasingly the case, although the mission was accomplished the restlessness was not abated but fueled. Looking back, this all began in third grade when I found some very old National Geographics at a garage sale. I bought three with the coolest covers and headed home to look through them. Three hours later I was back with a glazed look in my eyes so my elderly neighbors gave me hundreds more which lighted a fire of wanderlust that has never been extinguished. As I have aged, this rage to roam has never regressed and becomes stronger when I feel a sense of Groundhogs Day in my day-to-day life. This significant part of my soul has been the bane of girlfriends past and the puzzlement of all that are connected to me.

While in Austin, walking down Congress Street on my final night, I peered up to see It’s a Wonderful Life projected on the wall of a building. That movie has long been a favorite and is another part of the puzzle of my perpetual commotion. I have a different view than most of George Bailey. I have always felt a connection with George. I think he did right by Bedford Falls and in the end, if ever given the chance I would choose Mary Hatch over Violet Bick. However, I cannot keep myself from screaming in my mind “RUN GEORGE, RUN” for at least one of his opportunities to do something for himself during his life. When we find ourselves like George, standing on a bridge looking down at the river, it is the good that we have done for others that saves our soul but it is the occasional good we do for ourselves that keeps us afloat in lieu of a guardian angel that may not come when we need them. I figure George Bailey would have liked Austin. Hee-haw, mossback George, this one was for you.

I surmise the same part of my soul that yearns for travel also drives me to never be content with one dish or one restaurant, knowing that there is still more to see, ask, learn, drink and taste. So when I am not city or country hopping, bouncing from eatery to eatery must fill that rage to roam. And so it goes.

Posted in Travelfoodalogue | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Mission to Chicago: Megabus, breakfast bust, Hot Doug’s and Oktoberfest MAC Style

Posted by CMH Gourmand on October 2, 2009

By my nature, I am restless. As strong as my need to eat is a passion to travel. While I have roamed around Ohio most of the summer, my addiction is not satiated unless I cross a state line (although I prefer a dateline). My days are multi-tasked to excess. While some people dread a long flight or bus ride, I long for the dead time because I am forced to do just one thing (read, rest or reflect) and I have no control over the trip until arrival. I had reasons to be in Chicago and due to an 11th hour cancellation, I had the time to act on my compulsion.

Columbus native and high school chum, saucissonmac had invited me to his Oktoberfest. In a trip to Chicago last October I missed out on one critical hot dog destination. I have been wanting to take the Megabus to Chicago for years. This was the critical mass of incentives I needed to go, so it came to be.

In an old commercial, a Superbowl winning football player was asked what he was going to do next. His answer, Disney World. At the Food and Wine Affair on September 25th, at about 8:45 pm, I was asked what I was doing later, my answer: “I’m taking the Megabus to Chicago at 10:50 pm, so I better get going”.

I have been on a lot of buses (Intercity, Planet Perth, Feejee Experience, Oz Experience, Wayward Bus, and Contiki, among others) however my last bus experience in the US of A was taking a late night Greyhound from Columbus (having just closed out a Reggaefest at the Ohio Union) to Lewisburg, West Virginia for a funeral. Seems like the kind of thing that would be in an old country song and at times it felt like one. However, I had high hopes for the Megabus and my late night ride.

Megabus works a lot like the defunct Skybus, all bookings are online. One way fares to Chicago vary from $1 to $49 with a 50 cent booking fee. The typical round trip fares I found were between $25 and $39. The bus arrived on time (10:50 pm) at the downtown pick up point. The range of passengers varied from 18 to 80 with a mix of couples, college kids and a gourmand. The bus then made quick stops at OSU, Cincinnati, a McDonalds and Indianapolis with 6 am arrival at Chicago’s Union Station. The bus was about 3/4 full until Indianapolis where I had to give up my extra seat to a French speaking, laptop toting graduate student from Quebec. I could not figure out what took her to Indy but her keyboarding did confirm that the bus had free wi-fi which worked most of the way to Chicago.

So what does one do in Chicago at six in the morning? If you are me, have a cheeseburger and a coke. I was en route to my Windy city respite of choice the Billy Goat Tavern. There are several locations in Chicago, but THE Billy Goat – Mike Royko’s hangout, the place where 3rd shift city workers come in for a beer and sandwich after clocking out is the only one for me. I always feel at home here and never feel like a tourist. I made my way to Michigan Avenue via the Riverwalk and checked out a few sights on the way.

When I arrived it was closed. No sign of life or light inside. This had me perplexed, this is my sure thing. When I can not figure out what to do downtown, this is where I go. I figured I made a mistake on the time, so I gathered three Chicago weekly papers and secured a seat near Millennium Park while I waited. As a bonus I was able to watch chef teams set up for Gourmet Chicago.

After an hour, I headed back and found no sign of life or hamburgers. I asked around and everyone said it should be open. Perhaps the curse of the Billy Goat now applies to the Gourmand, it was time for me to move on.

My next destination was Hot Doug’s, The Encased Meats Emporium and Sausage Superstore. The last two times I was in Chicago the place was closed for vacation. This time I knew they were open. Hot Dougs is hot dog heaven for gourmets and gluttons. The business is famous for Duck Fat Fries and Foie Gras and Sauternes Duck Sausage with Truffle Aioli, Foie Gras Mousse and Sel Gris. It is also famous for long lines (2 hours) to get in. The place opened at 10:30 am and I was going to beat the line. My game plan also involved going to Johnnies Beef in Elmwood for an Italian Beef and a giant lemon ice (my favorite Chicago meal) as my pre-Oktoberfest snack.

I am a planner. People love to travel with me: great sense of direction, I have maps and can read them, I’ll ask for directions if needed, I tend not to panic. One small error on my part. Hot Dougs is on North California not South California. A ride on the orange line and a 10 minute walk on South California took me to a cement plant. At this point…. my day was not looking so hot. A quick call confirmed my error. I trotted back to the CTA station to pick up the blue line. But, as fate would have it, the blue line was under construction so I had to get off, get on a shuttle and get back on the blue line several stops down the line. (This is where the three people that read this blog, all i Phone users, are gloating over my lack of i Phonedness….). When dealing with adversity, I focus on the mission: Hot Dog at Hot Dougs.

For those of your doing public transit to Hot Dougs. Take the blue line to California. Get off and walk north on North California for 15 minutes or take bus number 52 which has a stop about 20 feet from the front door of Hot Dougs. You will arrive in time to see this.

View from the rear of the line, ETA to hot dog 1 hour 27 minutes

View from the rear of the line, ETA to hot dog 1 hour 27 minutes

The people standing in line at Hot Dougs are happy people. They joke, take photos and look at the menu. The line moves along and we all mentally praise the customers that opted for carry out vs. dine in. At one point, a guy drove by, pausing to ask what concert tickets we were waiting in line for. We were waiting for something better, encased meats. As a seasoned traveler I prepared for emergencies and layovers with Gourmet and Saveur to read. I read both while in line (note: Saveur is 4x better than Gourmet). I met a nice couple from New York near the door and we had great conversation about dining. When I reached the entrance, I had to accept the fact that I was not going to Johnnies on this trip. No Italian ice for me. I mourned. I moved on. I ordered.

There are no two finer words in the English language than encased meats my friend.

There are no two finer words in the English language than 'encased meats' my friend.

Hot Doug’s did not disappoint. The small shop is encased in the classic colors of Chicago hot dogs – yellow, red and blue. The service is fast, the food is good and the ambiance is 100% hot dog. Is it worth the wait – yes.

Hot dog history is on the wall at Hot Dougs, did you know that the French Revolution was due to a lack of Hot Dogs?

Hot dog history is on the wall at Hot Dougs, did you know that the French Revolution was due to a lack of Hot Dogs?

Hot Doug’s was my training for the evening. I arrived right on time (via the blue line, orange line and Metra) to Flossmoor station for a quick transfer to the festivities at Saucisson Mac Manor in gritty Homewood, Illinois.

Good food and beer to be had time

Good food and beer to be had time

If you have any interest in encased meats, cooking and the fine art of meat preparation, take a look at saucissonmac. All Oktoberfest meats were hand crafted by the host. He was supported by his fine wife, Bon Femme and his artisan sister in the side dish and baking arenas. Our meal(s) were fit for the Kaiser himself. Coconut cream cream puffs were perfectly crafted and demonstrated that pastry chef training in France is worth every euro and baking burn. I felt very German within an hour.

Mac in the back, left side.

Mac in the back, left side.

Ruhlman eat your heart out, MAC knows meat

Ruhlman eat your heart out, MAC knows meat

The original plan had been to crash at Mac Manor and Metra back to Union Station in the morning. However, a few beers, sausages and games of pigs later, my other Chicago based high school chum Josh took me to Naperville and all it has to offer, including a late night taqueria. The next morning, we drove into the city for breakfast at Lou Mitchell’s.

Lou Mitchell’s is a favorite for locals and tourists. The excellent baked goods are fresh and made in house. Service is fast and friendly in this downtown diner landmark. The line stretches long in the morning, but free treats are served while you wait. I discovered that counter seating is first come first serve so that canceled out any wait.

The Megabus stop was a block away. It picked riders up at 11:00 AM (12:00 EST) sharp. The bus was full capacity until Indianapolis then down to 20 people for Columbus with a quick stop at the same McDonald’s as before. I arrived 6:17 PM at OSU having read a book cover to cover on the way. I did a quick stroll across the oval, hopped on a COTA bus and was home before 7:00 PM.

Mission accomplished.

Posted in Travelfoodalogue | Tagged: | 6 Comments »

YUL Gourmand

Posted by CMH Gourmand on August 26, 2009

YUL is the airport code for Montreal. So how do I make this post fit to the CMH Gourmand core mission of exploring culinary Columbus? Two things let me do this. First I am crafty. Second this is MY blog.

Well, yes, I can do better than that. One year ago, Hungry Woolf (a Columbus Food Blogger) posted about Montreal. I also decided to take what I liked about Montreal and share what elements of the city wish I could have brought back to Columbus.

View from my table

View from my table

About every three months or so, I take off to another city for culinary exploration. I have a few tenets to my trips:

I travel during off peak season and/or off peak days. I typically travel Saturday to Tuesday and often during what is called shoulder season – that lull between high and low season. I want to experience a city when it is having fun (Saturday), relaxing (Sunday) and working (Monday).

I stay at smaller “boutique” hotels or Bed and Breakfasts just off the beaten bath but within walking distance of the action. I usually get a good deal.

I only go where I can take public transportation to 90% of the places I want to dine or things I want to do. Google maps comes in real handy for this. I just plug in where I am staying and where I want to go and select walking or public transit directions. This is also how I decide which place I am going to stay – if I find my lodging is too far away from what I want to do – I keep searching. You learn a lot about a city by walking from point A to point B.

I look for a city with history, strong ethnic food traditions and places that are hot when Columbus is cold and cool when Columbus is hot. I am a 65 degree type of person.

I take one carry-on bag which makes last minute changes to my flight plans a breeze – a flexible single traveler with no checked luggage is a dream to airlines with overbooked flights. I often finagle some deal during transit. I have gone to Australia twice on airmiles alone so I know what I’m doing.

I don’t often write in detail about my out of 270 adventures. My previous two air to “fare” trips were San Diego and San Antonio. In June it was Montreal for my birthday.

When I am on “holiday” – I focus on the fun and the learning instead of the documentation. So here are my Canadian cliff notes with many details left out. I did not take any notes and often did not carry my camera.

On day one. I checked in to the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth hotel. The Fairmont is renown for superior service. The Queen Elizabeth is a historic hotel in the heart of the city – most famous for John and Yoko Ono’s sleep in. Since it was my birthday I opted to splurge but not too much. I have stayed at other Fairmont’s so I knew they have special weekend rates if you book way in advance. For $US130 US I got a suite with the perfect bed, a terry cloth robe and free wifi. The hotel is connected by elevator to a mall with good food choices as well as the the Canadian Rail station which is deep under the streets of Montreal.

After check in it was time to explore the sights, sounds, smells and smoked meats of Montreal. My first stop was the Frommers and Hungry Woolf approved Schwartz’s Deli.

The Official Name: Chez Schwartz Charcuterie Hebraique de Montreal

The Official Name: Chez Schwartz Charcuterie Hebraique de Montreal

This place is always busy but as a solo traveler a single stool at the counter serves me just fine and was available. I was able to watch all of the action of grilling, slicing and such. The banter of the cooks and servers was the best part. The counter guys have their own language that seems to be a fusion of Yiddish, English and Spanish with a French accent. When they were not kidding each other they were taking great care of me. This is a must.

Schwartz Deli
3895 St-Laurent Boulevard

After several more hours of strolling I doubled back to check out an ice cream place I saw across the street from Schwartz’s.

3880 St.-Laurent Boulevard

My ice cream seventh sense did not fail me. After an afternoon and early evening watching almost everyone in Montreal consuming some type of ice cream concoction I did not want to stand out by making a poor choice or no choice at all. Ice Cream is the perfect accessory for roaming the neighborhoods of Montreal.

In Montreal, as in Europe, one first pays for the ice cream, then orders it. This is a bit disorienting at first but it makes perfect sense. How many times have you tried to juggle your ice cream, napkins, paying for and receiving change back for your ice cream at the same time? It is cumbersome. This was good practice for my ice cream quest the next day….

However, having flown from Columbus to Chicago (get the breakfast sandwich at Billy Goat Tavern at O’Hare or an Italian Beef if after 11:00 AM) and then Montreal, then taking the shuttle to the hotel, then walking 5 to 6 miles exploring and eating and exploring and eating, I needed a break. I took the subway back to town to watch a movie.

My next meal choice was made by instinct. I needed a late night snack and had recalled walking by (six or seven times while trying to get my bearings when I arrived) a place called Dunn’s Famous that looked popular. This spot has been a landmark since 1927. The location I visited had a diner feel and servers that can deal with any type of crowd. The thing to get was the mixed meat sampler. I also confirmed that the Montreal way to eat fries is with malt vinegar and mayonaisse. When in Rome…. I did, and it works – there is a flavor profile that comes together with these tastes. I have not been converted but I respect the choice.

Fries of this variety are a good gateway entree for Poutine, a heap of fries with a pile of cheese curds covered in gravy. Oui, I can see how this would be a good late night choice.

The mission for day two was to transition to another hotel in Old Montreal then start my bagel expedition of the city. Montreal is known for a very specific style of bagel. These are smaller, crustier and denser than their New York cousins. There are strong opinions on who has the best. I was determined to sample the three leading candidates. Doing so also allowed me to explore pedestrian friendly neighborhoods of via Rues – Rachel, Duluth, Lauier, St Laurent, Mont Royal and Bernard.

My winner was St. Viateur Bagels. However, my disclaimer is they win because the location I sampled first is also a cafe that makes incredible sandwiches with the finest meats and cheeses with fresh greens a variety on house made sidedishes. Most of the shops make bagels in house and you can watch them going into and coming out of the cooker. Here is where you go:

St-Viateur Bagel Café
1127 avenue du Mont-Royal Est

The original St. Viateur Bagel location is still around at 158 rue Saint-Viateur Ouest.

At the original location: Walls covered with St. V history

At the original location: Walls covered with St. V history

Fairmount Bagel at 74 avenue Fairmount Ouest has an advantage in being open 24 hours everyday. They provide an alternative to late night poutine.

Many of the restaurants and cafes of Montreal have large, door sized windows that open up to the sidewalk creating a patio atmosphere inside. This adds the the neighborhood feel of the streets I was walking through for days. I had the sense that many people lived, shopped, ate and gathered within a few blocks of friends and neighbors everyday. I could see true signs and symptoms of community and established neighborhoods. There is an expression – Cote soleil, which roughly translates to “the sunny side of the street”, these open air restaurants cater to that concept and it felt good. (There are two examples in Columbus: Marcellas in the Short North – does not work; Barrio, downtown….does, kind of, if we add in a bagel place, an ice cream shop and a lot of young people speaking French).

Deep in one of these neighborhoods and far away from a strip mall or shopping complex was my ice cream objective –Le Glacier Bilboquet in Outremont. Yum.

By this time I has mastered Montreal’s subway system. A city transit day pass was all I needed as long as I did not mind walking a mile or two on occasion.

Subway map with many of my favorite stops shown

Subway map with many of my favorite stops shown

I was able to get to the restaurants, farmers markets (Jean Talon and March Atwater among others), cheesemongers, parks, university bookstores and chocolatiers. Then I discovered something to add to my fun and expand my range. Bike kiosks are in all of the hot spots in town. There are self service stations with 10 to 20 bikes at each location. The first 30 minutes are free. You can rent a bike for 24 hours for $5 and turn it in wherever and whenever you are done with it. All you need to do is swipe a credit card and you get a 5 digit code that gives you access to any bike at any station and any time for 24 hours. The bikes are sturdy with baskets for hauling bags and booty. And while there is a good chance you will be pegged as a visitor if you are riding one without a helmet, many locals use the bikes as well (with and without helmets) so you don’t feel like you are shouting out “here I am, a Tourist!” Natives use the bikes for short commutes or to help haul groceries back from the store.

After a long day in the town I returned to my new base of operations in Old Montreal – Hotel Bonaparte, 447 rue St-François Xavier. This might be described as a small hotel / pension. The owners of the attached restaurant bought this property several years ago and connected the two businesses. French style breakfast is included as part of the stay.

Dinner time took me just down the street to Restaurant Stash Café Bazaar at 200, rue Saint-Paul Ouest. I had an incredible polish sampler meal here which is on the menu every day and is quite a value. My very helpful server also guided my selections on local and regional micro-brews so that I had the full Quebec experience.

I spent the next day doing more exploring, walking, biking, and bageling. I strolled the parks and rode my borrowed bike out to the island to see some locals.

When I got back, I sought out my perfect place (I always have a back up plan) for my birthday dinner, but alas two of my top three choices were closed for the day and the other was closed due to an emergency. I did get to see each of my picks from the outside. The next morning, on my way to the airport, I gave myself consolation prizes by stocking my carry on bag with food and baked goods from Olive et Gourmando – 351 rue St-Paul ouest. This is one of the finest bakeries I have ever enjoyed. For those that are impressed by culinary pedigree, the roots of this restaurant come from Toque.

When I go back to Montreal, I am hitting the above mentioned places again as well as (my intended birthday dinner):

536 Duluth Est
514 281 1114

So Columbus – what do I wish I could have brought back through customs:

1) More smoked and cured meats with the pickles, peppers and other deli goodness that go with them as well as the crusty, perfect sandwich bread that a deli can always procure.

2) Open air windows for restaurants – it could work in Victorian Village and off High Street areas in downtown.

3) Self serve bike rental.

4) Expanded public transportation.

5) A city with a population that can better adapt to being greeted in a language that is not English.

6) We will now pay for our ice cream first and order it second. So say we all.

Thanks to Hotel Bonaparte for making this post possible, I may not have left my heart in Montreal but I did leave my camera.

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El Gourmand – South of the Border

Posted by CMH Gourmand on January 20, 2007

I was south of the border in Honduras visiting my step family. I was able to visit Pollo Campero – a Central American fast food company I have been interested in for 4 years.

There are just a few locations in the US, LA and Houston were the first. People were in line for over 4 hours when the LA Pollo Campero opened. The reason the owner started the franchise there was that he was intrigued by the smell of chicken on the airplane when he was coming back to the US (EE UU) and it was people bringing Pollo Campero back for their relatives.

During my first trip to Honduras in 2003, I spied a Pollo Campero near the airport – I had some time to kill so I started heading over on my own. My Honduran family freaked out because my stepmother was convinced I (an extranjero) was going to be kidnapped. I was not – but the place was closed. Que lastima.

I begged my father to eat there when we arrived in Honduras this time around and we did – now he is a big fan. In fact – we ate there twice.

Chicken and Plaintains

Mi familia en Honduras lives in Choluteca, a city of 65,000+. The fast food companies must have noticed my dad spending so much time there because Choluteca now has a Wendys and Pizza Hut within walking distance of our family compound. These are the only fast food places you will find within 250 miles (good – but it would be nice to have a Pollo Campero).

Pizza Hut Sud

Both fast food places in Choluteca are about 4-5 X the size of a place in the US and each have large, multi story play areas for the kids. Each also offers table service and many perks not offered in the US as well as more extensive menus. These are run more like an Applebee’s than a fast food joint.

And here is a shot of some fresh seafood from the beach in Cedeno – about 20 minutes south of the Ellison/Rodriquez hacienda.


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