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The Chicago Italian Beef Sandwich (Sandwich Week)

Posted by cmh gourmand on August 7, 2017

Italian Beef

(Disclaimer: This was written in 2005 and 2006 so some site info many no longer be accurate)

Chicago is a food lover’s town offering three homegrown culinary inventions – Deep Dish Pizza, Chicago Style Dogs and the third (and least traveled) of the triumvirate – the Italian Beef Sandwich. Few people have heard of this Chicago cultural icon outside of the Windy City metro area, – but once you get a big, wet, messy bite of this sandwich – you are hooked.

The history of the sandwich is about as clear as the juice the beef swims in. You won’t find this sandwich in Italy; most people agree the sandwich evolved in the Italian neighborhoods of Chicago in the 1930’s. A place called Al’s on Taylor Street has been around since 1938. Other local lore implies the origin of Italian Beef at a place called Maxwell’s. The popular sandwich rapidly populated Chicago’s neighborhoods with beef stands in the late 1940’s. Today the signature sandwich is served up at hundreds of places from old mom and pop stands to new fangled franchises.

The building blocks of the Italian Beef are:
Bun – a Chicago style French roll – crusty on the outside – soft on the inside
the beef – thinly sliced and cut against the grain
the juice/sauce – a highly seasoned au jus with slight variations depending on the establishment but usually including some combination of garlic, salt, pepper, oregano, basil, red pepper flakes, and other herbs and spices
and the toppings – typically sweet peppers or Giardiniera (Jar Din Era). You can get cheese at a few places but for most Chicagoans that is like putting ketchup on a Chicago dog – you just don’t do it.

Before ordering a Beef – you need to know what to ask for. Each choice is critical and needs to be made before you approach the counter.

First decision – Dry or Wet. A wet sandwich will have the roll dipped in the juice as well. A dry sandwich will have what escapes the meat or a little extra juice the sandwich maker ladles in with the meat.

Second decision – Sweet or Hot? Sweet will get you roasted green bell peppers. Hot will typically give you Hot (Spicy) Giardiniera relish – the typical combination includes cut up cauliflower, celery, jalapeno and/or sport peppers, carrots, and spices (the recipe for this relish varies from place to place).

Third Decision – can you get a combo? The Combo sandwich adds Italian sausage to the Italian beef – can you say coronary disease!!!

Fourth decision – can you get “red Gravy/sauce? A few places offer a red sauce for the beef – this is basically spaghetti sauce – but this is rare and not favored by many Italian Beef aficionados.

Fifth decision – “ya want fries with that?”

Pat Bruno and Dennis Foley, famed food writers and known Beef eaters describe the Chicago Lean. An Italian Beef Veteran will often eat this sandwich standing up with the torso leaning forward or at least maneuvering the tail end of the sandwich to a strategic angle to avoid the drippings of the sandwich. Any strategy that avoids loosing the slightest bit of sandwich while protecting ones clothing is preferred. Some of the better beef stands invest a little extra in a thicker grade of wax paper to wrap the sandwich in – but even this will not guarantee keeping the sauce off your shirt.

Many of the places get their beef from Scala Beef – which has a great reputation in town. Most of the rolls are from Gonnella Baking Co. or Turano Baking Company – also highly thought of companies. It is not uncommon to see giardiniera served out of a large glass jar from one of several local purveyors. Considering all these commonalities – what separates one beef from another – quite a bit. Beef fans will scrutinize every detail such as how the sirloin is cut – too thin or too thick and how each place handles their beef from first cut to the last. Seasoning and toppings are critical too and always noticed by anyone that has been to more than a couple beef stands. Even small touches such as how the rolls are stored and whether or not the Giardiniera is self serve can be crucial factors.

My Chicago beef guide – who I will call Mac the Knife for safety purposes – said this after one place – “they say you can’t screw up an Italian Beef – well you can and _______ did!!” So to make sure your first experience is a good one – here are some places that consistently do everything right.


Looking for beefs around Chicago – you will hear the name Al mentioned more than once. The problem is there is more than one Al’s, so where do you go first – I will help you sort out A Tale of Two Al’s.

Al’s #1 Italian Beef
What does the phone book say: Al’s #1 Italian Beef

Locations: Over 10
Most convenient location:
169 West. Ontario
(312) 943-3222

Open since:
The Franchise started in 2001. But the Ontario Al’s does have common ancestry with the Taylor St. Al’s. This location has been around for several years.

Beef is cut and cooked in house: Yes

What you need to know. The Ontario location is within a baseball toss of Ed Debevic’s, Carson’s Ribs, Gino’s East Pizza and a Portillos – so you can cover all of your Chicago food needs on foot.

Getting there on the EL / Subway:
Brown Line to Chicago or Merchandise Mart

Can you get a beef on Sunday:
Yes

Inside seating:
Yes


or you could go to…..

Al’s #1 Italian Beef

What the phone book says: Al’s Bar-B-Q

Location(s): one
1079 West Taylor St
(312) 226-4017

Open since:
1938

Beef is cut and cooked in house:
Yes

What you need to know:
Mario’s Italian Ice shop, which is among the best in Chicago, is across the street. This Al’s has been listed in nearly every article written about Italian Beef. Little Italy is a great neighborhood for food lovers to stroll around.

Getting there on the EL (subway):
Blue Line to UIC-Halsted

Can you get a beef on a Sunday:
No

Inside Seating:
No – but there is room to do a Chicago lean inside and a few picnic tables outside.


more places to try:

Carm’s Beef
1801 S. Wolf Road,
Hillside, IL
708 449-0125

Any second or third generation Italian Beef eater will probably pause for a minute and smile when you mention Carm’s. Many years ago, there were four locations. The original and favorite was on Cicero Avenue. Today, just the Hillside location remains. Joe Mantenga seems to love the place – he has two autographed photos inside. This Carm’s serves much more than Italian Beef but it keeps the family recipes and legend alive with the most appealing looking Italian Beef sandwich in town.

Carm’s Italian Beef
1057 W. Polk St.
312-738-1046

The Little Italy Carm’s is no relation to the Hillside Carm’s. This location opened in 1926 as a grocery store called Fontano’s. In the 1960’s the store moved across the street and this location started specializing in sandwiches and Italian Ices. The DeVille family knows many of their customers – people from the neighborhood and nearby University of Illinois at Chicago students. I lady at the counter asked me “who would want to read about Italian Beefs?” This book is the answer.

Boston’s Bar-B-Q
2932 W Chicago Ave (Corner of Grand and Chicago)
Chicago, IL
312 486 9536
(Closed Sunday)
Boston’s started out as a bar in 1949 but switched over to a Beef place as their sandwiches gained more renown. This place is a little out of the way in an industrial section of Chicago but is worth the trip – at least in the daytime. Over the years, Boston’s has been consistently listed as a top place when Chicagoans rave about the best Beefs in town. This beef stand is also highly frequented by the Chicago police and other public servants, which is a solid endorsement for any type of food. Beef eaters will also find a Godfather movie poster hanging on the wall – although not scientifically proven, this type of décor typically has a high correlation with good Italian Beef. If you have not had a combo sandwich – this is one the best places to do so.

Chickies
2839 S Pulaski Rd
Chicago, IL
312 762 2333 (BEEF)

Chickie’s is a classic Chicago Italian Beef Stand that blends into its working class neighborhood. The inside is standing room only but there are two picnic tables outside. The beef is strongly seasoned. The Giardiniera is homemade with a lot of large slices of celery mixed in with the spicy blend. The place has been around since 1962 and is a lunchtime favorite for nearby office and factory workers.

Duke’s Drive In

8115 S Harlem Ave
Oak Lawn, IL
708 599-0576
http://www.dukesitalianbeef.com/

Duke’s is kind of the new kid of the Italian Beef block. This south side establishment has been serving Italian Beef sandwiches since 1975. Duke’s is a quintessential drive-in, which makes it a favorite of truckers and classic car enthusiasts. Although some places have received higher rating for sandwiches – for the Chicago gull population Duke’s is the hands down favorite. Not even the multiple signs posted that state feeding the bird is against city statutes will keep these feathered French Fry eaters way.

Johnnie’s Beef
7500 W North Ave
Elmwood Park, IL
708 452 6000
(Second location –
1935 S ARLINGTON HEIGHTS RD
ARLINGTON HTS, IL 60005-4017
847-357-8100
(Closed Sunday)

Really good beef can be found outside the Chicago Loop and Johnnie’s Beef is worth the trip to the burbs to prove it. Expect to find a line of customers when you pull in this drive in’s driveway. Don’t let the sight of people queued up outside the door deter you – this place moves people through quickly because the guys at the counter are efficient order takers – much like the Soup Nazi in Seinfeld. If you forget to order your fries or the type of peppers you want because you panicked then you can drown your sorrows in one of the best Italian Ices this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Max’s Italian Beef
5754 N Western Ave (near Hollywood Ave.)
Chicago, IL 60659-5114  
(773) 989-8200
(Closed Sunday)

The Estes family takes their business seriously – they post their home and work phone numbers on the wall so you can call them if something is not to your satisfaction. The stand has been around since 1957 and you can see a leftover wooden sign from the day that Beefs were well under a dollar. Today, the place has four tables and counter seating that rings the inside with plenty of TV’s for watching local sporting events. Max’s offers self-serve, spicy Giardiniera and a giant menu including their famous Ghetto Fries (BBQ sauce or gravy, Onions, Giardiniera, and a lot of melted cheese). When they dip a Beef at Max’s it comes out really wet – so be ready.

Patio
1503 W. Taylor St.
Chicago, IL 60607
312 829 0454
The Patio has been around for over 50 years with the last 23 at this location in the heart of Little Italy (http://www.littleitalychicago.com). There is no patio at the Patio (that was at the original location) but there is one of the least expensive Italian Beef sandwiches in town. As a bonus they wrap their sandwich a high-grade wax paper (extra protection for beef greenhorns) that is more resilient than what other places use. The friendly counter staff will make you feel at home in this cozy spot that seats about ten.

Pop’s Italian Beef & Sausage
7153 W 127TH St
Palos Heights, IL
773 239 1243

14279 Wolf Rd.
Orland Park, IL 60467-1932
708 403-9070
10337 S. Kedzie Ave.,
Chicago, IL
773 239-1243
18328 Governors Highway
Homewood, IL
708 647-9999

Even though Pop’s family of restaurants has grown – the friendly service helps retain the feel of a Mom and Pop establishment. Pop’s has one of the best cost to beef ratios of any Italian beef purveyor, they do not hold back on the beef in their sandwiches. As for toppings, this small chain has the best self-serve hot giardiniera in town. This is a good place to come if you need a place to sit down since there is some seating available.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Posted in food | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

The Sandwich Chronicles: A Prelude to Sandwich Week

Posted by cmh gourmand on August 7, 2017

Welcome to the beginning of Sandwich Week. Which means, like Shark Week, etc, this may be a ploy to get the ratings up. It is a long and rambling road that got his here, so I will begin, with an explanation to how we got here and why.

Why do Sandwich Week now you might ask? Because this blog is eleven years old today. And why did I start this blog? It was not so I could serve up Sandwich Week eleven years later. The short answer is I started this because my friend A. Conway suggested I look into doing a blog. Back in the old days, they were just taking off. I was weary of this hipster, electronic method of self disclosure. A. Conway has an interesting ability to make subtle suggestions for how I might improve my lot in life which started my senior year of high school. The downside is that because he was subtle, I often missed these queues and did not recognize his hints as potentially helpful until years or decades later. A few of these nudges did fight their way through to my single-minded skull. One of the most important was suggesting I join him to learn about different committees with the Ohio Drake-Unions Activity Board. I took a shine to the Fine Arts Committee and the people I meet there became 99% of my friends in college. And unlike most other cohorts in my life, this group of friends “stuck” and have remained loyal for decades. Through this group I had many important post college experiences. Great road trips, a “camping” tradition that lasted ten years, a few girlfriends, my post college roommate and the man who I orchestrated to be the first Dudeist Minister in the state of Ohio so that I could be married by a guy wearing a bathrobe.

So in the summer of 2006, A. Conaway said something a long the lines of hey man, you might want to look into doing a blog. These are the series of events that lead up to me being in Chicago and his suggestion. In 1998, I blundered into free-lance writing and had some success with it. I even assisted in research for some popular food books. But after surviving Y2K, missing getting trapped in Ireland by 911 by a few hours and basically spending a lot of time doing a lot of things but not really making any forward movement in my life I decided to double down on a few life goals. 1) Leave my job that I decided I hated in 1995 (not so much because the job was bad but that the majority of my peers and especially superiors were wretchedly horrible humans) 2) Emigrate to Australia 3) Write a book so I could be a “real writer”.

Number one took a lot longer than I planned. My initial plan was graduate with a degree in Library and Information Science, with a focus on the information part so I could work at OCLC which had the potential of getting me to Australia some day. That did not happen. I did get the degree but not the OCLC. As it turned out, I was so focused on getting into OCLC I overlooked an important reality, there was a shortage of librarians in Australia at that moment of time which would have given me enough points to make my move. The sad thing about that job that sucked, that even though I increasingly found most of my co-workers and all of my superiors deplorable, I finally found my niche and really started to excel but I made a critical mistake, the very second I trusted “them” – they pulled a Lucy on my Charlie Brown and took the football away from me at the last possible second. That was devastating. That moment in time created a level of pure hatred that persists to this day. So that explains part of the outcome of goals one and two. During the middle of all of this I had not one, but two opportunities to write a book. The first was about the history of pizza. I had a partnership with an editor, I wrote the entire book outline and completed much of the research. But the publisher decided to go in another direction and gave the book to another team. Their book was not that good but they did manage to get on the History channel to talk about pizza. About the same time, Ed Levine released his book on Pizza which I consider to be one of the best. I was not bummed about the outcome of “book one” because at the same time I was working on the pizza book, I was asked what type of book I wanted to work on for a new publishing company that had just launched. I immediately said “regional sandwiches” and was given the green light to start after the pizza book was completed for the other company. When that fell through, I was told to “start now” and given an advance to do sandwich research. I jumped in deep to that project but had to make a hard decision. I needed to travel around the country to visit all of the sandwich spots for my book. To do that I needed money and a lot of vacation time. My sucky job had that, so I sucked it up I stopped looking for another job or trying to figure out a back door to the land down under so I could do this book right. Well, I almost gave up on that back door. I made a “hail Mary” attempt to get Down Under non traditionally, but I could not seal that deal either. And the week after I got back from that exploratory mission (my sixth trip there) I got the call from my publisher. My book project was canned because they were closing shop. I told I could to keep the balance of my advance and I would retain the rights to all of my material. That is a good deal for a company that was ending. But it was not a book. I found myself back where I started years before and my tail was very much between my legs.

It was shortly thereafter I found myself in Chicago visiting A. Conaway. He knew about the sandwich project because the previous fall I had used his house as a base of operations twice. The first time, I passed through after eating Pork Tenderloin Sandwiches in Indiana and before I started to eat Limburger Cheese Sandwiches in Wisconsin, more Pork Tenderloins in Iowa and a few others on my way back east. The second time, he drove me around Chicago while I sampled Italian Beef Sandwiches at 15 places in 4 hours. On this occasion, I was passing through on my way to Wisconsin to judge BBQ near a small town called Ellisonville. He asked about the book, and the hail mary attempt at Australia and the job I had worked so hard to get (OCLC) and I had to regrettably share that all had gone down in flames. And he said, “you might want to try a blog and use that sandwich material in it.” That is how we got here.

I never used the sandwich content in the blog, because it still stung a little….a lot, that it did not happen. After over a year of working twenty plus hours a week on this book, I could not look at it anymore. I had too much of my heart invested in it. But eleven plus years after, it does not bother me as much. Hence, we have Sandwich Week. I am dusting off old content and sharing a a few bytes of my archive of regional sandwich lore.

Thanks A. Conaway. This blog did not lead to another book, but it created countless opportunities over the last eleven years and more importantly, it connected me to many people, most of whom, did not suck. So this blog thing, was well worth doing.

Posted in Food For Thought | 1 Comment »

Judging (Cookies & Pastries) at the Ohio State Fair

Posted by cmh gourmand on July 31, 2017

I’ve written about food judging more than a few times. Reviewing my archives, I think this ->right here is my best post on the subject. It covers a lot of my philosophy on the matter, but as both an art and a science there is plenty of room to grow and expand my knowledge base as well as question my own standards on how to evaluate a food item.

This year at the Ohio State Fair, I judged a new category (for me) Cookies and Pastries (that would be 3104 for those on the circuit this year). This was a doozy! There were 135 entries in 14 subsections. Each subsection had a 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winner and of all of the categories, one had to be selected for Best of Show. My understanding is this food competition gets the most entries of any contest every year and because of that, not many judges do a repeat visit to these tables the following year due to PTSD – Post Traumatic Sugar Decompensation. The sheer volume of sugar based treats to eat was initially exciting but a few sugary bites in, I found the concept of finishing overwhelming. I was fortunate this year, apparently bad weather the weekend before the contest discouraged a large number of entries from actually delivering their cookies to the show. In some categories, I would see the entries listed as 22 total but ONLY 15 presented for judging. Had every cookie made it for the competition I do not think I would be a live to write about this. But still 135 is a daunting, if less than a typical number. To make this viable for all of us, we agreed to break into two teams of two with each team evaluating one half of the cookies / categories and then sampling all of the 1st place finishers and a few honorable mentions in every category before picking the best of show. So in the end, I sampled about 80 cookies. A typical judging gig lasts about 1 hour. A professional BBQ competition with prizes of $10,000 or more typically lasts 3 to 4 hours with breaks in between samples. For this contest, it took over 4 1/2 hours to sample and evaluate my assigned cookies.

We had some pluses going into the session that I was happy with. Each team was assigned a scribe whose job it was to write down on positive feedback for each cookie as well as our suggestions for improvement. This, I am sure, is a giant staffing and otherwise, pain in the ass for the fair but I salute the organizers for doing so. For many of the people who enter the culinary arts competitions at the Ohio State Fair, this is a big deal. It is a matter of pride and accomplishment. Sometimes it is rewarded with a ribbon and many times it is not. Often there is no opportunity to figure out what you might have done better so you can win the next year. I know in one contest I judged years ago, a woman in the crowd watch my every chew and at the end, when she did not win, she grilled me like a perp in a Law & Order episode. I was happy to provide feedback but not ready for the intensity of competition for what is in many cases a ribbon not a life changing cash award. By entering the competition, I feel strongly that entrants deserve the opportunity for feedback considering the hours a contestant spends learning their craft, considering a recipe and delivering it for evaluation to the fair.

I was very fortunate to be teamed up with Joe. Joe has judged at the fair many times but more importantly, he has competed in national baking competitions, so I found him a great resource as I sometimes struggled with diagnosing off flavors in some baked goods. The three criteria we had to evaluate for each cookie were: Appearance, Texture and Flavor. The basics of each of those three criteria were explained on our sheet but not elaborated on. We then decided to give each a point value. We both agreed that flavor was the most important aspect of any cookie so we would give that a 50 point range and the other two categories a 25 point range each. To help calibrate each other, we sampled the first three cookies, then reviewed our point scores to get a sense of our judging styles as well as talk through how we determined appearance, texture and flavor for each. This was a good learning experience for both of us and helped us avoid having too many cookies in the center of our respective score bell curves. We found we were generally within 5 points of each other on Flavor scores and 3 for Appearance and Texture. That made it easy for us to talk through later categories when we had a clean winner but a not always a clear second or third place finisher. And so it began.

At the end, I was not sure I could take another bite (and we were not taking giant pieces of each to sample). One would not think judging cookies could be so exhausting but it was on this day. Physically, it was a lot of sugar and carbs. Mentally, I was really trying to give helpful feedback to the contestants. You can seen not our best of show winner as well as our 1st Place Ribbon entry in the bar cookie category. Oddly, this was the third cookie I tried out of all of them and it was a slam dunk beginning and at the end when I tried it again. Our other team agreed, having tried the same amount of cookies we did. The Dulce de Leche Bar really stood out from a very competitive group of winners and earned the win. I could have brought one of these home with me and plate or two of anything I wanted from table after table of cookies (and candies across the aisle) but I wanted to have nothing to do with sugar at that point. I just wanted to drink a swimming pool full of water and maybe rock back and forth in a corner for a few hours while the withdraw tremors burned the sugar out of my veins.

Here are some general tips I have for you, if / when you enter the cookies category at the Ohio State Fair.

1) Read all of the instructions and follow them (we found several that did not or were clearly in the wrong category of cookie type).

2) Make eating your cookie easy for the judges. Secures your recipe and entry sheet to the outside or your ziplock bag or make it so it is easy to do so without digging in to your cookies inside.

3) Taste your cookies before you plate them. I had at least four entries that were horrible. In three cases it was pretty clear they either did not mix their ingredients completely or used the wrong/poor ingredient (baking soda when they wanted powder, stale nuts, old chocolate chips, etc).

4) Consider what your cookies will look and taste like after experiencing the heat of a hot summer day at the Ohio State Fair.

5) Don’t enter a chocolate chip cookie in the drop cookie category.

6) Simple is better. I tried a death by chocolate cookie, that literally tasted like death. The baker modified the recipe so much by adding extra “fancy” ingredients to make the recipe sound much better than the end product tasted. There were so many types of very different chocolates competing against each other in the batter that no chocolate flavor remained after the battle to the death in the oven.

7) If you want a good chance of winning, enter in a category that is not as popular. This year, there were not many Molasses cookies or Short Bread cookies in their respective subsets and a well executed version in either would have 3rd place at the least with no extra effort needed.

8) Before you enter, have people you don’t like try your cookies so you get honest feedback if they are good or need more work. There was one cookie that was so bad, it was clear that no human tasted it before it went into a ziplock bag for the ride to the fair. If someone did taste it, it must have been like the scene in the Andy Griffith Show when Aunt Bea made horrible pickles and Barney and Andy were afraid to tell her, so she made more. Friends, and enemies of your enemies do not let someone make a bad cookie, whenever something like that happens an angel LOSES their wings. Cookies by their nature should be at least good, that is a given.

9) In some categories, especially chocolate chip, think of what a quintessential version of that cookie should taste and look like. For instance, a chocolate chip cookie should be fairly uniform in size from one to another. It should not be small or extremely lumpy. Ideally, you should be able to see there are chips in it or on it or are part of the cookie in some way. Walnuts or other nuts are a risk, you might like them but nuts often add a wild card to flavor and may not be a favorite of judges. Intuitively, you want to stand out in the crowd, and in some categories that is good but not the All-American Chocolate Chip – conformity is good in an iconic category, just focus on it tasting good.

I hope you enter the Fair in some contest sometime. It is a great experience. Or if you judge, take your job seriously. I have sometimes worked with judges that do not. Judges also need to remember that in the world of food, one person can not judge, they can only render a subjective opinion. It is only by defending or explaining that opinion to others that have done the same, can you truly judge and evaluate what you ate. The debate makes tasting as close to objective as possible.

Posted in culinary knowledge, culinary misadventure, Food For Thought | Tagged: | 5 Comments »

Blystone Farm and Butcher Shop (& Deli & Taproom), Canal Winchester

Posted by cmh gourmand on June 30, 2017

Blystone Farms sign

“Lord, I was born a rambling man, looking for a new lunch spot as often as I can. But when it comes to eating, I hope you’ll understand, as for now, I’m largely a homebound man.” By my makeup, I need to roam and explore, discover new things, etc. Over the last six months I have been adding a lot to my to read lists, to listen to lists, to watch lists, etc. As for my to eat list, it is extensive. When I hear about or notice a good candidate I start a blog post with the name of the destination and any bits that caught my interest others mentioned or based on a quick search of the interwebs. (I have 55 more places on my blog list). Canal Winchester has been a frequent topic of conversation over the last year due to Brewdog, and more than once someone would suggest Blystone Farm and Butcher shop as worth a visit. One guys description of a deli sandwich from the Blystone peaked my interest to the extreme, he loved talking about the sandwich almost as he enjoyed consuming it.

With the breaking of weather in the spring and the breaking of myself from a lack of adventures I opted to combine work with a little pleasure in May. I assigned myself the “southern leg” of deliveries for the Columbus Ale Trail Brew books. I plotted out an all back roads route to make deliveries to Grove City Brewing, Brew Brothers, Loose Rail Brewing, Brewdog and Combustion Brewery. It was a great day to drive and conveniently Blystone was just slightly off my plotted path on my way to Loose Rail. (As a side, note, I did find a cool Taco Truck called Taco Time by Don Carlos on SR 317 in a VFW parking lot about one mile from Brew Brothers, that will be a future post here or on Taco Trucks Columbus).

Blystone Farm deli

I did not have any expectations of Blystone and I could not find much online (other than a very good post by Columbus Culinary Connection) so I just knew it was a farm based butcher shop with a deli. As soon as I saw the place in the distance, I knew I would like it. The moment I walked through the door it was love at first whiff. Blystone offers a full service butcher shop offering a wide range and variety of cuts of mea, many originating on the farm. The shop is also stocked with a deep selection of craft beers, wines, Ohio and other cheese and local products such as Sophie’s Pieorgi. As I was walking around the ship enthralled by my choices one of the butchers asked if I needed anything so I replied, “a lunch recommendation.” He walked through what on the menu originated in the shop and suggested I try the ham and cheese, especially since he knew the ham had been freshly sliced an hour ago. He also said the wings may meet my fancy as well. He then pointed me to the new taproom / restaurant.

Blystone Beer Menu

I loved the rustic look of the attached dining area. Positioning myself at the bar, I spied the beer list on the wall and was impressed with the choices in a largely Ohio based tap selection. I asked a few questions before placing my order. The soup of the day was a Mediterranean soup with a mix of unusual ingredients so I ordered that as well as a Ham & Cheese Sandwich, chicken wings and a beer flight. The woman behind the bar was immediately impressed by my ambitions. In this case, even for me, I may have been pushing my own envelope which exceeds the good sense and tolerances of most mere mortals.

I cannot recall much about the soup other than it was flavorful and I liked it. I think that is because anything would have been forgotten in comparison to my two lunch orders. The Ham (house made) and Cheese (Ohio) sandwich was served on fresh thick Texas Toast style bread topped with homemade BBQ sauce and served with a pile of outstanding steak fries. The flavor of the ham stood out among an outstanding supporting cast of. The steak fries were perfectly executed, sturdy, firm, well salted and filling.

wings and sandwich

As for the wings, these are superior on all indicators. I’m not a big fan of wings in general. However, in the rare instance I find them to be the exception to the greasy, mediocre base line, I get a bit excited. The Blystone wings are clearly not dumped out of a frozen bag. These wings were big, filled with flavor and did not need anything to dip, bathe or a sauce to swim in. I’ll place these in the top three in Central Ohio with O’Reilly’s and Smokehouse being a strong tie and weak third place respectively.

My approach to lunch attracted a bit of attention. Everyone in eyeshot asked about the wings. A woman I think may have been one of the owners was very interested in my opinions of the meal and I think my server wanted to adopt me although I am older than her.

This spot warrants further research but my first impression is highly favorable and flavorful.

Blystone Farm

Blystone Farm
8677 Oregon Rd, Canal Winchester
(614) 833-1211
(3 miles from Brewdog, 4 miles from Loose Rail)

Posted in beer, Road Trip, sandwiches | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

(Off Topic) Father’s Day “Crash” Memorial: Senor Ellison Esta Aqui

Posted by cmh gourmand on June 18, 2017

We are going off the topic of food (although there is an interesting note about the Wendy’s in San Pedro Sula, Honduras and I did trick my dad into eating grilled bull balls). My Father died five Father’s Days ago so the statute of limitations regarding some of this story is now up. I will spend part of my day today going to a bar I despise, sitting at my Dad’s name plated stool, drinking a bad beer, probably trying to pick a fight with someone (in his honor) and buying a lottery ticket before I leave. This story is a preamble to what eventually led to his death: neglect by his adopted family in Honduras. I wrote this in 2003 (and only updated few words as I post this). I made four more trips to Honduras prior to my dads death in 2012. The second trip was pretty comical, it involved a cross-country trip to the Mayan Ruins of Copan, my dad almost being arrested for peeing in the public square there, several attempted shotgun marriages of this writer to various Honduran cousins, and etc. Subsequent trips were less entertaining and involved me paying off various bribes, dealing with my dad being an illegal immigrant, my step brother nearly getting arrested by the marines at the US Embassy and thus me subsequently pushing him against a wall and threatening to beat the shit out of him and anyone else he wanted to bring to the table. There were many other less entertaining events and adventures. His emigration to Honduras started out mostly well before it turned into a horrible shitstorm and this is the story of how it began.


Senor Ellison Esta Aqui

Or

Learning to Do Nothing:
A curious reflection on the journey of a man, with his father to the Central American country of Honduras; specifically the southern region and the city of Choluteca

Honduras

There comes a time in a man’s life when the son becomes the father and watches by as his “son” does some pretty unusual things.
-Jim Ellison, 2003

I have been around the world a couple times and back again, and hope to keep doing so. The more I travel, the longer my list of places to see gets. However, Honduras never really made my list. In January of 1999, my father went to Honduras for the first time with a group from the watering hole he frequents known as El Dorado. Prior to 1999, EL Dorado, burrito and maybe taco, were the only words of Spanish my father knew, although I suspect he figured they really originated from Texas. The “gentlemen” from El Dorado are a rough and tumble bunch but know the area well from many hunting trips there – primarily for doves in theory but in practice it was to “hunt” for two-legged animals as well. My dad fit in well with this crew, so much that they named him “Crash.”

Dad’s trips to Honduras became much more frequent – climaxing in the period January 2002 to January 2003 when he sojourned there 5 times, usually calling me at the last-minute to find a good flight for him – so I knew how much this was costing him. I also knew this was money he did not have. This piqued my interest. My intuition and some snickering I would occasionally hear from the El Dorado boys indicated something was going on. However, Ellisons don’t talk about much of anything except for how to avoid other Ellisons. While having dinner one night in February of 2003 I noticed something odd about my father – well, something new – a wedding band and quite stylish at that – very much not something he would pick out. I asked him point-blank if he went and got himself married, he nodded. In Honduras? “Yep.” Well, with that the deal was done, Honduras moved from number 117 on my list to number 1, bumping Iceland back several months. The Ellison boys were off to Honduras. I booked the trip. I was not getting any usable information from my dad so I consulted other sources of knowledge. The El Dorado boys were drunk at the time I interrogated them so I could not get any authoritative information other than if I “wanted to get into trouble or out of it” a gentleman named Omar was the person to speak with down there – however his last name and phone number were not available. Two books from 1983, a travel guide from 1999, and some Web sites gave me enough information about Choluteca to determine it is the (my analysis) “West Virginia of Central America”. It was also the “murder capital of the world”, oh boy! My dad spent his first 18 years in West Virginia and I reckon I have enough of the state in the recessive cells of my DNA to let me adapt in my own way.

In Houston, our flight was delayed for an hour due to reports of visibility problems in Central America and in particular Tegucigalpa. It seems this is the time of year that everyone in Central America burns their sugar cane fields so with current weather conditions, the smoke was not going anywhere except for Tegucigalpa. This was not a good thing. Flying into “Tecuz” is one of the finest experiences in modern air travel. The airport runway is hacked out of the stone at the top of one mountain surrounded by several others. The brakes of the plane go full tilt on impact and typically there are only a few inches of runway to spare at the end. The road has to be shut down at take off so the taxi’s, bicycles, and street vendors are not blown to El Salvador by roaring jet engines at take-off. It is always in the list of top 5 most dangerous airports in the world. I looked forward to that quite a bit. We departed Houston for a 2 hour, forty minute flight. Upon approach we were informed, belatedly, that we were going to circle to see if visibility would improve. And hour and one half later the pilot let us know that it was time to give up – he could not land and we were heading to San Pedro Sula in Northern Honduras. And anyway – we were almost out of gas.

In San Pedro Sula we took care of customs, relieved ourselves, and eventually sauntered onto a bus to take us to our destination. There were also some self-employed gentlemen with large sums of US Dollars and Honduran Limperia’s acting as roving ATM’s to meet our monetary needs. After everyone was rounded up, bottles of water, miscellaneous Wendy’s sandwiches, and various Biggie size drinks were loaded unto the bus to pacify our gringo mouths while the airline tried to figure out how to pack all of the medical equipment one of the medical missionary groups had brought with them onto two coach buses. With some creativity and an extra mini van, the mission was accomplished and we were on our way. My dad was a bit surly at this point because he could not figure out why the above process would take slightly more than an hour. I promised him I would disown him and go home from San Pedro Sula if he caused any more trouble. We began our bus segment of the trip. A five-hour tour….. a five-hour tour.

The trip was interesting; the buses drove through the center of town, past swarms of young kids selling all types of food and beverages. Then we scooted through villages and mountains, past swarms of young kids selling all types of food and beverages. As the scenery faded and we started to make some time, the buses stopped. It seems there was some type of mutiny in bus number one. Twenty odd American women needed to pee and there was no bathroom in the bus. We had a toilet in our bus so the gringas were herded onto our bus but at the rate of one female every 10 minutes – we were never going to leave. So after the third woman emerged from the fragrant sauna which was the on board bathroom (right next to my dad) the driver told the rest to cross the highway, do what they needed to do and get ready to move in five minutes. This was a good thing, for many reasons, the chief benefit being that if one more missionary started talking to my dad about God and how much she had to pee, there was going to be a lot of paperwork for me to fill out at the Embassy.

Arrival in “Tecuz”

After the bathroom mutiny was put down and my father was appeased, we continued on to Tecuz. We arrived at 7:30 p.m., 8 hours late. My step mother Miriam and party had been waiting there the whole time, not really knowing what was going on. This was after getting up early in the morning for the three hour bus ride to the airport. She was as happy to see us as we were to be almost done with our initial journey. Now she could eat and not wander around the airport trying to figure out what was going on (This was before cell phones were commonly used). My dad found his man Carlos, who is his personal car rental guy at the airport and picked up his Montero. Carlos was happy because now he could go home as well. We loaded up our tribe and headed to the Pizza Hut across from the airport to provision ourselves before the 2 1/2 hour journey to Choluteca. In addition to Miriam, there was my stepbrother Roger (Row-hair), Miriam’s sister Ingrid and nephew Fernando. Well, Fernando Jose. As it turns out my dad thinks it is immensely funny to say Fernando Jose repeatedly. “Hey Fernando Jose…ha, ha, ha.” “Fernando……Jose…..ha, ha, ha.”


Language Lessons

My dad did not tell me much to prepare for this trip except for a few names of key people, the name of the city we were going to and that “Miriam speaks English real well and many people also speak a lot of English and most of the people understand English even if they do not speak it much.” Boy was that a misperception. Miriam speaks English about as well as I speak Spanish – Kindergarten level. Roger, no habla ingles – but he does speak a lot of Spanish….rapidly. Ingrid and Fernando Jose – don’t seem to speak anything at all, expect that Fernando Jose will smile and grimace after the third or fourth time my dad would chuckle out a “Fernando Jose”. My dad also implied he was becoming a bit of a whiz with Spanish. That was also a grave misperception. I was able to identify 10 – 11 words in his vocabulary while driving – including righto, lefto, and straighto. Occasionally he might say, “hey boy, what does that word mean?” He did not understand Miriam when she repeatedly yelled “Cuidado” (careful), “lento” (slow), “Peligroso” (dangerous), “Tumblos” (speed bumps) and “muchas curves” (many curves).

Later, while not driving, I did overhear a conversation between dad and Miriam, it reminded me of the black and white Tarzan movies of the 1930’s – “Me and boy sleep now”, “Senor Jim pee pee now, comprende.” Oh, the language of love! As it turns out this was a big change from when things kicked off for these two in 1999. Miriam told me that they had met and danced briefly one night. My father obtained her phone number somehow and called her when he returned to the USA. She did not know who he was or understand most of what he was saying. He then had a friend at work write a letter to her in Spanish for him to send to her. Then things just took off from there. After eight days of observation I can say that in spite of my father’s inability to speak Spanish and Miram’s questionable at best English, the communication between these two was much better than the communication I observed between my parents during their last years of marriage.


Driving to Choluteca

My good friends the Lopez sisters are from Puerto Rico. Two of the sisters are married to two other very good friends of mine and a third dated my good friend and former roommate. Therefore, I had six different sources of information about trips to Puerto Rico and an interesting phenomenon called “slug people”. In Puerto Rico it is custom for people to stand, sit, or recline right on the edge line of the road and watch cars go by or occasionally see how close they can lean into the road to watch the action and not get hit. Apparently, this is a custom in all of the Spanish speaking regions of the Caribbean. Not only were there slug people, but there were drunken cowboys on bikes maneuvering in such a manner on the road one might think they were breaking a bull. That was hard to dodge at 45 – 70 miles per hour. Another common sight was two people on one bike. Roughly 80% of bikes on the road have two passengers. One-person pedals and steers, the other person sits on the main bar sidesaddle. That is quite a masterful display on bumpy rocky roads. The 20% of bikes with only one passenger usually featured a person hauling tools, or a mattress, or some other large unwieldy object.

Choluteca, the West Virginia of Honduras, which is the West Virginia of Central America

My father had a pretty difficult life growing up. He did not have running water in his house until he was a high school junior. He hunted so the family could eat. He feels younger in Honduras, the climate is much better for his many health problems so he usually has a spring in his step down there. He also does not have any running water in the Ellison-Rodriquez compound, which is also a way for him to feel young again. I was not made aware of this until I was in the bathroom and tried to flush the toilet. Nothing – nunca. Not a problem on my part, I am not a high maintenance type of person but I like to know these things before I engage in certain activities. I settled into Roger’s room, had a short conversation with him about the operation of the fan and the location of a water source, and then I went to bed. The compound consisted of three small 20 x 20 buildings, a small water tower, and a central yard, all connected by 10 foot high stone walls with barbed wire on top and a 2 inch thick steel door to drive the car through. So began my first day in country about 26 hours after we departed.

Travelogue

We spent the next seven days exploring the sights of Southern Honduras. Apparently, one of the major sights at the time was a very white male from Ohio with blue eyes speaking fragmented Spanish while accompanied by a posse of 3 to 8 step-relatives and an older looking version of himself that would occasionally say “Fernando Jose” then laugh. This never ceased to fascinate people. This aside, there was quite a lot to see and do.

Cedeno

Cedeno is a nice little black sand beach town on the Gulf of Fonseca. There are several beachside shacks that serve some fine seafood and offer a place to observe the various people and activities on the beach as well as the occasional roaming pig. Or the less occasional roasted pig.

Hacienda Gualiqueme Hotel
Tel. 882 2750
Choluteca, Honduras C.A.

This is the most famous and popular hotel in Choluteca, (there are about three). The name has something to do with the very large tree in the center of the courtyard. This hotel is a one story, sprawling compound with a large courtyard, a pool and landscaping. The entire hotel was buried in over ten feet of mud during the hurricane of 98. They did a hell of a job digging the thing out. Most of the city’s infrastructure was wiped out by this hurricane and is just now starting to be rebuilt. This is a good hotel and I would suggest staying here if one was in Choluteca for whatever reason. It is probably the only place you could stay and wake up alive the next morning.

Isla del Tigre (Tiger Island)

I found out about this place doing my own research and pretty much demanded to check this out. We drove to the small fishing village of Coyolito and took a little boat over to the cone shaped (former volcano) island and the town of Amapala. We then paid for a ride to the Hotel Playa Negra. This place is busy in December and January as a local getaway spot but for the rest of the year it is pretty dead. We had the whole hotel and beach to ourselves. The beach looked like something out of an Ernest Hemmingway story. There was a small cabana on the beach where we were served paella and beer. There were fishing boats 150 yards down the beach with men mending their nets and preparing their catch for market. An occasional burro would wander on the beach and we watched two little boys dig for crabs. It was great. I swam in the Pacific Ocean as if it were mine. At that time about 2 square miles of it were mine.


Parrilla El Torito – Choluteca

We ate at this restaurant three times. It is great, the owner is very kind. The menu is English on one side and Spanish on the opposite. Some of the English words are creatively misspelled and don’t make sense. In some cases, there may be 14 items on one side and 20 on the other – so it is difficult to determine which items correspond with the opposite side of the menu if you don’t read Spanish. That just makes it more fun.

San Marcos

We drove to this small town near the Nicaragua border. It is famous for it’s market, which was closed. There is a nice restaurant in town with trees growing inside and a fine ice cream place with no name. At the border we met a German couple that was traveling from Argentina to Alaska on horseback. They were about 1/2 through their trip and if they were allowed to cross the U.S. border they estimated the whole trip would take four years. The horses were a bit of a problem at borders because of foot and mouth disease and various other maladies. The border guards did not know what types of forms would be needed to cross into Honduras and they we not sure who they could contact for further instructions. So the German couple was trying to figure out how to get the right forms to the border so they could cross. While this was an inconvenience it was not as bad as Peru, in that, the horses were almost shot there because the couple had the wrong paperwork.


Valle de Angeles and Santa Lucia

This is a tourist driven area that has a landscape that looks like western Oregon – large rolling hills and small mountains with lots of pines mixed in. The climate was cool. There were many clusters of nice houses in the area – most occupied by staff from the U.S. Embassy. The villages sell any type of tourist thing you could think of including some nice hand woven hammocks but it you want a real deal just buy one on the road in between Choluteca and Tecuz. You can also buy parrots, coconut milk, water and anything else along the road – if you drive slowly enough.


Tegucigalpa

We drove back to town to see the National Museum, which is housed in the green palace-like former governor’s mansion. This is located in the center of downtown Tegucigalpa – a maze of narrow one-way streets and insane taxi drivers intent on killing as many people as possible. The museum was closed because someone had stolen a valuable treasure from the museum that morning. The outside looked cool. Also of note in town is Pollo Campero (country chicken), a restaurant across from the airport. This is a major Central American restaurant chain known for chicken cooked the Central American way. There are three of these restaurants in the U.S, and they have made a fortune feeding homesick Central Americans and gringos. When the L.A. location opened there was a line for ten hours to eat there. I was unable to eat here because it was closed for Mother’s Day. It looked good.

Where School Buses go to die – or be reborn

Have you ever wondered what happens to school buses when they retire in the United States, well, unlike old people from Ohio, they don’t go to Florida; they go to Honduras for a new life. This is odd because on occasion, the buses still have the full name of the school on the side such as “Redneck Springs Exempted Schools” or “Coonskin Creek High School”. More often the names are blacked out or painted over but these things are everywhere – in the cities as public buses, on the highways as “Greyhounds”. Usually the name of the driver or some inspirational slogan is painted on the back – kind of a large bumper sticker. The buses are well cared for and seem to be living a good life other than working 16-20 hours per day


Local Culture

In total, I estimate I met 1279 step relatives in 8 days. Whenever we went somewhere – we would pick up several people, visit a while with others, drop some people off, pick some more up, and take a quick turn at the last minute to hit a country road to visit with some more relatives. This was good for my Spanish practice. It was also an unusual experience for the relatives because the only other gringo they had ever met was a man who laughs, drinks a beer or two or three and occasionally says “Fernando Jose”. At one time, I think every one of these people was in our rented Montero – at once. This is a family oriented country; the people can be generous and hospitable. They have a lot of questions about the United States. My younger male step relatives were disappointed to find out the USA is not populated entirely by supermodels. I was in cities and country farms and everywhere in between. Some people have to get a ride to a drop off point then ride a horse for an hour to get home. Others travel for hours just to get to work or school. There is no complaining – I doubt most people I know could deal with day-to-day life in Honduras. The scenery could be great but everyone litters – that was the only fault I could find (on my first trip, that changed quickly on my subsequent visits) but that is just how it is. My father and I both like to cook, we live by ourselves and are known to do our own laundry. This type of behavior is very uncommon in Honduras even for gay men – which we are not – even though that is not a problem. I kept finding that my clothes would disappear and come back clean the next morning. I will say this for my dad, he cannot speak Spanish and may never learn but he remembers the names of each of those 1279 relatives and various other people and makes his best effort to pronounce each name correctly.

Goat and Bull Balls

We ate well. Fresh goat cheese was a delicacy for us gringos. We got a big ball of it from the grandmother of my father’s goddaughter (Hicela Suyana Mendoza) when we were out in the country visiting and picking her up to take her to school. My dad and I were fond of all the goat had to offer, especially in grilled form. We spent the better part of our last day grilling goat meat for our adios fiesta (start time 1:00 so people show up about 5:00). My stepmother was kind enough to get Bull Balls for dad but I had to promise not to tell him what they were. In fact, I spent the better part of the day building up this special delicacy and acted slightly depressed when the dog ate one of the four we has spent an hour cooking. Anyway, he ate it. I told him what it was. I had to swear an oath not to tell the El Dorado gang what happened. FYI – Bull balls taste like liver – I suggest you go with the goat.


In Review

For an only child, with virtually no family and a pretty dysfunctional family on my dad’s side when it does show up – meeting and living with my 1279 step relatives while on an unplanned Spanish language and cultural immersion course was a unique experience which could not have been conceived of even for a Seinfeld episode. I learned a lot, acquired S.A.S.S. (Sudden Accelerated Shit Syndrome), learned to love all things the goat gives us and spent some quality time with my dad, new family additions, and two great dogs named Porsche and Spy. I also meet some good hombres that work for Trek Safaris (the company that carts the El Dorado Gang on Hunting expeditions) when they can, including the famous Omar. Omar turned out to speak fluent English, to be quite a world traveler and well versed in just about everything as opposed to my vision of a dangerous mercenary pirate from a bad B movie. Unfortunately, I did not meet Omar until my last day. I’ll have Omar’s number for the next time I am in Honduras. Honduras is no longer 117 on my list of places to go to. Plus I found out that my blue eyes – are quite an asset in Central America – as my stepmother kept telling me. Hopefully she will give up on marrying me to my 16 year old step cousin.

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Mama Renie’s Pizza: McArthur, OH – Pie Post Script

Posted by cmh gourmand on June 15, 2017

My core readership of 137 may recall my various posts concerning McArthur Ohio or as I know call it the western oasis of the Hocking Valley and future home of my Southeast Ohio Bigfoot & Identified Bigfoot Sanctuary and Interpretive Center. Those said readers may recall my one lament about McArthur, not trying the pie at Mama Renie’s. Well last Thursday, I corrected that. I took two cohorts on a sales trip to Southeast Ohio to explore Family Donut Shop, Mama Renie’s, O’Betty’s Hot Dogs, Casa Nueva, Jackie O’s, Little Fish Brewery, Hocking Valley Winery, Brewery 33 and Loose Rail Brewing.

At Mama Renie’s the three of us walked in at lunch time and ordered three waters, two slices of pie and one order of chips, which seemed odd to our server as well as everyone eating in the establishment. However when I explained I was taking my colleagues on a progressive lunch through the Hocking Valley she recalled me from my previous visit, laughed and asked if I wanted ice cream with the pie. “Yes, Ma’am.”

The pie is made by a local pie maker that by report has garnered many awards at county fairs and the like. We sampled Peach Pie and Strawberry Pie. My two companions are very experienced eaters, both are from the Restaurant Industry, and their opinions aligned with mine. These were classic Ohio comfort food slices of pie. The fillings were simple and full of flavor, the crust was neither too flakey or too crusty, in the Goldilocks zone of just right. And unlike the fancy, artisan, hipster pies of Columbus, these were not small slices for $6 but large slices for $2.99.

So, if you happen to be in McArthur and don’t have room for a pizza, pop in to Mama Renie’s for a slice of pie.

slices of pie

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Palmers Beverage Center: Wine Wednesdays & 10 for 10 Tastings

Posted by cmh gourmand on June 4, 2017

Palmers Sign

Palmers Beverage Center has a long history in the Clintonville community. When wine first hit big in the Midwest during the 1970’s, Palmers was a go to spot for any wine enthusiast in or out of the area. Palmer’s still offers some hidden gems today. Before craft beer was cool, Palmer’s was a destination for beer too. Things have changed a lot over the decades. In the present the competition in Clintonville is intense with numerous new beer based businesses throughout the area. At one time, a few years ago, the community worried if Palmers would sustain, after the loss of an elder/senior family member in this small family operated business. So far it has, but with a lot of hard work and by my guess many pro bono hours from the family.

Today Palmers is still known for a few distinctive traits. Interesting phrases on their sign marquee, Pinky the Bulldog, the in-house customer relations specialist and a knack for often having a harder to find beer or wine. Here are a few other things you might know about Palmer’s. The original location was across the street at the present location of the Wild Flower Cafe (a Clintonville history factoid, the same building was also home to Clintonville Academy for two years). Palmer’s moved to the Oakland Park location because they needed more room to make bottle storage. Until the late 1970’s, bottle deposits existed in Ohio so customers could bring back bottles to get a deposit returned for each bottle. Palmer’s needed the basement storage space of their current space the manage the volume of recycling the area brought in. Today, that basement houses a pretty amazing private wine collection I could only dream about.

Pinky at Palmers

Palmer’s offers Wine Wednesdays every Wednesday from 6 to 8 pm. Four different wines are sampled, with some very tasty snacks. A few hard-core regulars have taken it upon themselves to supplement these snacks with more gourmet goodies. On the honor system, you drop a buck or two in the tip jar and all is well. Emily runs these tastings and she offers a good amount of knowledge with each wine she serves. I first met her when we were both wine judges for the (now defunct) Columbus Food & Wine Affair so I know she knows her wine basics.

Once per month, on the second Wednesday of the month, Wine Wednesday gets an upgrade (like Business to First Class) as host for a Columbus 10 for 10 Tasting. These are hosted by Landon Proctor, a very knowledgeable Vinophile. This is a safe place for all with an interest in wine because Landon does not quietly suffer wine snobs. The concept is simple, he offers ten samples of ten wines for ten bucks. He knows the ins and outs of each pour. He also sometimes brings a wine maker with him. Since this is Palmer’s, the same group of hard-core regulars often bring along some extra snacks to enjoy. These tastings run from 7 to 9 pm.

10 for 10 Tasting at Palmers

Food at Palmers Beverage Tastings

No matter which Wednesday you pick, you will have the opportunity to taste new wines in a comfortable atmosphere while you enjoy yourself and support a small business at the same time.

Palmer’s Beverage Center
Southwest Corner of Indianola and Oakland Park Ave.
(One block north of East North Broadway).

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The Brewery District is Booming!…….Again.

Posted by cmh gourmand on May 30, 2017

Daily Growler Brewery District

You may have missed it but the Brewery District is BOOMING again! If you were born after 1980 or if you were new to Columbus after 2001, it may be a real shocker, but this area south of Downtown and just west of German Village was the center for city nightlife for over a decade starting in the late 1980’s.

The Brewery District has become a big part of my life over the last several years as I lead tours throughout of the area and as a member of the Brewery District Trade Association, working to improve the area for residents and businesses alike. I have been happy to see a flood of new residents to the area with the help of locally focused real estate agents like HER Realtors. It has become my second favorite neighborhood, next to Clintonville (my pal Nick beat me to that post on my neck of the woods).

But let us begin with the first boom of the Brewery District. Louis (Ludwig) Hoster established City Brewery (near the current intersection of Liberty and Front) in 1836. Legend has it that when he passed through the city on a 4th of July, he was so smitten with Columbus, he was determined to come back to establish his roots. He certainly did, over the next seventy years, he and his descendants expanded the small brewery one of the largest brewing empires in the country as The Hoster Brewing Company. At its peak in the late 1890’s the brewery took up several city blocks and produced over 500,000 barrels of beer per year. Several other breweries fermented in the area during this same era including Schlee/Bavarian, Born and August Wagner Brewing. However, the Brewery District went bust long before prohibition. A combination of a growing Temperance Movement (started in Ohio) and the Anti-Saloon League (originating in Westerville) resulted in nearly two-thirds of Ohio’s 88 counties voted dry by 1908. Add in competition from growing national breweries (Budweiser and Pabst), a large labor strike and the anti-German sentiment brewing in 1914 due World War I (which suggested drinking beer was unpatriotic), most of the breweries went bust before 1918. This history is why the area is known as the Brewery District today, because it was the center of brewing in Central Ohio BEFORE prohibition. I say this because my company Columbus Brew Adventures leads tours of the Brewery District and we sometimes find people are confused by the lack of breweries in the area.

However, the second boom of the Brewery District was related to beer as well. In 1988, the first microbrewery in Columbus (and second in the state) Columbus Brewing Company started out in the Brewery District. In 1989, the Hoster name returned to the area with Hoster Brewing, a great brewery and restaurant located on High Street. In addition to two breweries, the district was considered the premiere bar hopping area of its era with Victory’s, Hi Beck, Gibbys, BW-3 (when we called it that instead of B-dubs…) and many others fueling the weekend escapades of the city’s young professionals and college kids looking for a break from campus dives. The rise of the Short North, Easton and a change in tides in what was hip, saw the Brewery District start to nose dive in the early 2000’s as people lost interest in the area. Hoster closed in 2001 and many other areas businesses followed suit.

CBC Restaurant 2017

In the last two years, the area has started to see a resurgence in interest driven by the addition of many new businesses willing to wait it out, with the philosophy of, “if we serve it (beer, food, fun) they will come”. The venerable CBC Restaurant (not now or ever a part of Columbus Brewing Company) has survived years of nearby construction and is thriving as it celebrates its 20th anniversary this summer. Hi-Beck, Victory’s and Tony’s are still around and they have been joined by several exciting destinations including Copious/Notes, Brick American Kitchen, Rockmill Tavern, and El Arepazo Latin Grill. These destination restaurants are bringing diners back to the area and in the process, these folks are discovering what else is going on in the area after their meals.

But wait, there is more! This third boom in the Brewery District is being fueled by beer as well. Most people don’t know it, but there is one active brewery in the Brewery District. Although it is not open to the public, Commonhouse Ales is housed in the former Columbus Brewing Company space behind CBC Restaurant. There are many cool things about Commonhouse Ales, but the most compelling is that $1 of every six pack sale of their Six Point One Four Good Ale, goes to the Columbus Foundation and then pours out as grants to different Columbus charities and non profits. The previously mentioned Rockmill Tavern (voted best new restaurant in 2016) is the taproom for Lancaster based Rockmill Brewery as well as a sour beer aging facility. The Daily Growler is now established as their third location in the Brewery District and Seventh Son Brewing is starting a new project, slated to be open by the end of the year called Antiques on High. This will serve as their aging facility for sour and barrel aged beers and will host a taproom to explore these new beers as well as craft beer from the Seventh Son Brewery. More new businesses are on the way as well. It is exciting to see the resurgence of the Brewery District.

Food at El Arepazo

Arepazo Bandeja Paisa Platter

I’d like to go into a bit more detail on one of the spots leading the resurgence in the area, El Arepazo Latin Grill. Looking at the history of the area, immigrants had a huge part in growing the area in the first Brewery District Boom. Carlos and Carolina Gutierrez have maintained that tradition, they have worked hard to make their third location a destination for the area. Years ago, Carlos and his family were encouraged by area residents to open a restaurant when they served their Venezuelan delicacies to rave reviews at the Festival Latino year after year. Carolina, brought her Columbian family favorites to the menu as they were establishing the first Arepazo in Pearl Alley over a decade ago. They knew they were taking a risk when they launched the Brewery District location. They occupied a space that used to be one of the busiest BW-3’s in the country during its heyday. Then another restaurant took over and struggled. As they were getting ready to launch a few neighboring businesses went belly up but they decided to persist anyway, knowing the first year or more might not be very profitable. But they were determined to make a difference and knew the space had a lot of potential for them to showcase menu items they did not have the space to do at their other restaurants. They added in a wine room, host a weekly salsa night and more to add flavor to the space. Because I am such a fan, I am offering a prize for one of you that reads this post. Comment with either your favorite Brewery District memory or a dish you would like to try at Arepazo by midnight June 10th and one commenter will be chosen at random to win a $25 gift card to Arepazo. Good luck and I’ll see you in the Brewery District.

Tres Leches Cake at Arepazo Brewery District

Tres Leches Cake at El Arepazo


Disclosure: this giveaway is a partnership with Nakturnal. Opinions, content and photos are my own.

A winner was selected on June 10th and the contest is closed. Thanks for reading and an extra thank you to those that commented.

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Eating Lunch at Baba’s Kitchen

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 21, 2017

Even though I am late to the show, I’m happy to announce that Baba’s Kitchen is open. Please note it has been open since November of 2016. The eatery had what some would call a soft opening in November, I would call it a stealth opening. Because breakfast is not my bag (luckily you have Breakfast with Nick for his a.m. perspective on Baba’s) I have just been going for lunch since January.

I have a LONG history with the owners Dan and Caroline (see the links below for a few chapters of that relationship).

(Dan in his food truck)

(Dan in his food trailer)

I have delayed writing about the place until I felt there would not be anything new to add to the story. However, I have come to appreciate that Baba’s will always be a work in progress which is how Dan approaches his craft. There is always something new or different to try, always something that can be perfected more and Dan and Caroline work hard to respond to the needs of their regular customers so the result is constant evolution. During the short period of time since they opened I have seen the hours change, the table set up (changed from one large communal table being replaced by several smartly house crafted tables for two). Elements that have not changed since opening day: a passion for fresh food and ingredients, a nod to their grandparents in some classic baked good recipes and some killer smoked meats.

It has been a long time coming. I have checked in with Dan constantly as he and Caroline put sweat, tears and in Dan’s case, blood (several times I am sure), building out this dream over at least two years. The original building was lost at the last minute, funding fell through, construction needed to be deconstructed then reconstructed and much more. The outcome is a place that really reflects the character and spirit of the couple.

The menu is simple: a few breakfast times, a handful of lunch items and often a daily special. There are typically three to five types of baked goods available to supplement your meal or to enjoy later. The baked goods move pretty quickly but if anything is left at the end of one day, it is offered at 1/2 price the next day. If you see any, grab them, they are well worth the discounted price.

Although Dan is a meat focused fella, the kind that likes to butcher and parcel all of the meat he uses himself, there is always a vegetarian / vegan offering available reflecting the dietary direction of many of his SoHud / Old North Columbus neighbors. These dishes are good on their own, but as a bonus, any of them can be “upgraded” by piling meat on top – even the soups.

The house made bread is a fusion of a muffin and bun works well in breakfast sandwiches. It is the perfect consistency for a grilled cheese and makes a fine a burger bun. A frequent lunch special is three smoked ribs with some of the best French fries you will find in town. While the menu and the space is small, there is a much to enjoy. I encourage you to drop in to enjoy good food made by great people.

Due to all of the changes made to lanes on Summit, parking can seem a little confusing to people unfamiliar with the area, but there is a good amount of street parking nearby. You can also park in the lot just north of the restaurant – just look for the shell of That Food Truck and more days than not the Baba’s Porch Trailer.

Baba's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Burger King on 5th: Best Fast Food Twitter Account in Ohio?

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 20, 2017

In a world overloaded with social media and in particular generic, mundane and uninspired corporate tweets managed by disconnected third parties churning out content from soulless cubicles, there is a refreshing ray of sublime sunshine, Burger King on 5th. If you are a twitter user, follow @BK5th. If you are not click on the link below and start reading.

Burger King on 5th

I am displaying a few choice tweets below.

If you’re looking for a great place to park and “make out”, the back of our lot is perfect. Buy something first though.

reviewing security footage for the past month; a rusty chevy cavalier parks in back of our lot for 30min between 2-5 am every night. Creepy.

Apparently @SUBWAY chicken is only 50% chicken. Ours is probably 100% but most importantly comes in french fry format, as God intended.

If you’re getting hammered in Columbus and it’s too late to go to @LateNightSlice just drink for a couple more hours then it’s #BKBreakfast

I wondered if this content was legitimate, and hoped it was not some type of fake account. In the spirit of investigative journalism I visited the Burger King on 5th to dig deeper into the story by showing them this tweet I received:

Show this tweet to the employee at the register and they’ll get you a special offer…if they’re in a good mood.

The response to my query was unenthusiastic. If you recall the show Different Strokes, then the phrase “what you talkin’ about Willis” would most equate the look I received back. So we may never know, is this the real deal from a cutting edge local fast food franchisee or the work of some prankster? In an age of #Fakenews or #QuestionableTweets who knows?

If this has whetted your appetite for questionable food related social media, you may be pleased to know there is more.

Nihilist Arbys
(279,000 followers vs. 60+ for BK on 5th)

“Tweet it your way at Burger King!”

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