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Eat, Drink, Repeat: Culinary Discovery & Misadventure in Central Ohio

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Buffet Battle: Indian

Posted by cmh gourmand on May 25, 2016

This is one of the tougher assignments I have given myself since the dawn of CMH Gourmand. There are over 40 Indian Restaurants in Columbus and at least 1/2 of them offer a regular weekly/daily buffet. The other challenge, I was pretty sure I found my winner at the beginning of my research but I did press on. So instead of listing all of the Indian Buffets sampled I’m opting to list a combination of the best, the best known and those that are off the beaten path or off your radar.

And to make things more manageable in my quest, I took vegetarian only buffets off the exploration list. The winner in that category is Udipi.

amul

Before we begin, a bit of cultural observation. The explosion of Indian restaurants in Columbus in the 21st century is a great thing and may be a surprise to a few people. Pre 2000, there was just a handful of Indian restaurants operating, with the most prominent located in the OSU campus area. Two things have fueled the growth of Indian cuisine – more adventuresome palettes grown by a more diverse citizenry and a large and growing population of Indians in our community (thank you OSU and IT consulting firms). If there was ever a cuisine that was meant to be in buffet format it is Indian food. There is some much to learn, so many flavors and styles, that for many, the buffet is the best introduction to the flavors of India.

Aab India
1470 Grandview Ave, Grandview

Value 3.5
Quality 4
Quantity 4
Highlight: Aggressive on refilling your water
Kid Friendly Quotient 1 (crowded space)

Aab is a well-known name in Ohio with other locations in the state. The price for the buffet is $12.35 including tax (I had water on each visit). Ten dishes are offered as well as a small condiment area with two chutneys and two desserts. The layout of the restaurant and the placement of the buffet area is not ideal for customer flow. The place is also very crowded which makes it very loud. I typically eat at the bar. This is the most expensive option for the least amount of variety. They are very good about keeping everything filled and do better than any other place at this task.


Amul India Restaurant
5871 Sawmill Rd, Dublin

Value 5
Quality 5
Quantity 4.5
Highlight: desserts, variety
Kid Friendly Quotient 4 (space to spread out, high chairs)

Amul impressed me on each visit. The price for the buffet is 8.99 ($9.66 including tax) Monday to Thursday. There are 14 entrée dishes in a line up that changes up frequently. The buffet also features soup, a variety of chaats, 3 to 4 desserts including a house made ice cream and some nice flourishes such as carrots cut into stars and artistic cucumbers. Service is attentive. All of the dishes are well labeled and list core ingredients. The menu is about 1/2 vegetarian and 1/2 carnivore. Ingredients, sauces, etc. taste fresh and flavorful.

The ambiance is good with a mix of booths and tables. There is light background music on which is neither intrusive or annoying. A few highlights. Amul has the best preparation of Tandoori chicken. It is always moist and tender to the bone not dry or over cooked like most buffet Tandoori chicken. I really enjoy the bhatura bread (which I do not find commonly at most places) it has a donut quality to it but is still very light.

The layout is well thought out and efficient which allows customers to flow through quickly by spreading out food in three different stations.


Dakshin Indian Bistro (Also a location in Cleveland)
Polaris
8631 Sancus Blvd (moving to (?): 8380 High Street Columbus

Value 3.5
Quality 4.5
Quantity 4
Highlight: Variety of dishes
Kid Friendly Quotient 2 (crowded, chaotic space)

It appears this location may be moving to High Street at some point in the future. Currently it is buried in a strip mall behind Tilted Kilt. The place is non descript on the outside. Walking inside it is a medium-sized space that is fairly chaotic. The host stand is a small podium that blends into the back area and there is such a swirling of staff that is difficult to determine who to connect with to get started with the buffet.

The quality and diversity of the food is good and the layout keeps guests from getting too bunched up. A few items seemed a bit out of place – vegetables with rice noodles, Baby Corn Manchuria and Jamaican Curry Chicken seemed a bit out of the wheelhouse. Also of note – an assortment of musical instruments mount the wall as decoration. A couple oddball notes about this place. They offer a Midnight Biryani on Friday and Saturday until 1 am. They seem to have a connection to Venky’s Spice House. The cost for the buffet was $11.76.


Kohinoor Indian Cuisine
76 Powell Rd, Lewis Center

Value 4.5
Quality 4.25
Quantity 4
Highlight: chutneys, tomato rice
Kid Friendly Quotient 3.5 (smaller spaces, loud music)

Kohinoor resides in a building that has been a graveyard for restaurants and I think this restaurant shares a similar future. The buffet was $9.56 or $9.66 (I could not see a price posted anywhere and I could not quite understand my host when he told me the price. There are a total of 15 dishes featured (including dessert) and a small chutney station/cart. The amount of each dish was fairly limited so if there were a lot of people dining at the same time I think there would be availability issues. There is a mix of meat and vegetarian entrees. The vegetarian dishes were all great – very fresh and flavorful with a few I had not encountered before. The meat based entrees were largely – meh, a bit bland and nothing exciting. The music was too loud but sounded like some type of Buddhist meditative chanting. On the flip side the six chutneys I tried were all superior and may be the best in the city for flavor and balance. I hope this restaurant makes it so drop in for the buffet to help keep this place afloat.


Layla’s Kitchen
4989 Cleveland Ave, Columbus

I heard this place had a buffet but when I visited there was no sign or indication of a buffet past, present or future. Based on the size of the space I do not see how they could do so even if they wanted to. Two things that are worth noting. They have a drive thru pick up window and an outdoor patio.

Buffet: 0


New India Restaurant
5226 Bethel Center Mall, Columbus (near Philville)

Value 5
Quality 3.99
Quantity 4
Highlight: buffet management, Chicken Korma
Kid Friendly Quotient 4 (booths are more kid friendly and I forgot to look for kids seats).

To my recollection, this may have been the second Indian Buffet I visited – ever – long, long ago. One claim to fame this restaurant has is placement in what I refer to as the Bethel Road International Food Court – a small area of two retail strips which houses two decent Chinese restaurants, a NY style Pizza by the Slice shop, a Turkish Restaurant, an Italian Restaurant (with a buffet I forgot about) a Gyro / Kabab shop and Los Guachos – all within about 1/4 mile radius. This clocked in as the cheapest of all of the Indian buffets sampled at $8.59. Twelve main dishes are offered so a little less quantity than the typical buffet but I will note that no location is as meticulous with dish management as New India – the staff are constantly monitoring, stirring, etc., each dish. Two dishes that they do very well are Chicken Korma (nice spice) and Chicken Pakora (which tastes like a good fried chicken tender and moist on the inside and crunchy on the outside). Also noted, I rarely see Indians dine here at lunch time but always see Koreans and Chinese I do not no the correlation or causation or meaning of this observation but it is a trend. New Delhi offers the buffet each day of the week which is a bonus.



Persis Karaikudi and Biryani Grill

195 E Campus View Blvd (Crosswoods)

Value 4.75
Quality 4.5
Quantity 4.75
Highlight: friendly service, chaat (station?) see photo below, Tandoori Chicken, Wings
Kid Friendly Quotient 3.75 (booths are more kid friendly and I forgot to look for kids seats).

This space has been home to at least three previous Indian Restaurants and probably even more owners. The sign for the previous restaurant – Chutney’s is still prominent on the building so the paper sign for Persis is easy to miss. Also, don’t try to walk through the door on the right – that is for large parties and special events. Yelp has been very kind to this place in 2016 and my visit supported the praise, this is the best restaurant to service this space in it’s history and I know because I have eaten at every restaurant that has called this address home. The buffet features 19 dishes (on the day I sampled this included three different rice preparations, American Style wings, and a mix of vegetarian and meat heavy dishes). This is also what I call a chaat / samosa station and a dessert/chutney/vegetable section. Altogether there is a lot of variety here. Spicy dishes – were very spicy so be warned if that is not your thing – are marked as such. The Tandoori chicken sampled here was perfect – tender, moist and flavorful. Total price (I had water) was $10.74 which is a good value for what is offered.

chaat

The winner of Buffet Battle India is Amul India!

Amul India Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posted in Buffet Battle | Tagged: , , , , | 6 Comments »

Ohio Donut Trail: Amy’s Donuts (Columbus, West Side)

Posted by cmh gourmand on May 18, 2016

Amy's Sign

There has been a lot of buzz about the new donutery in town, Amy’s Donuts so I felt obligated to check out the place. When I determined the location, I was a bit puzzled. The type of donuts offered and the pedigree of the brand might seem initially like a better fit for the Short North or OSU campus. And looking at some of the neighbors, this repurposed (Taco Bell, or Tim Horton’s or similar fast food building shell) is a colorful anomaly in a sea of downtrodden buildings and brands. Case in point, neighboring M & S Pizza (which features a sign on top of a large propane tank) has as a tag line beginning with – Best Chicken…..

Amy's Building

However on further reflection as well as looking at the later hours of operation and the proximity to the casino, this business model makes perfect sense. People down on their luck or low on cash need a low-cost, high carb and sugar option to keep them going. Based on the crowd and demographic mix at Amy’s, they are serving the masses exactly what they need. Also, most of the restaurants nearby are taco trucks and other exotic “non-merican” eateries so this offers the tour bus set a safe snack for the ride back to the retirement home.

On my first look at the offerings, I was overwhelmed. There are over 150 possible donut types available in one form or another including specialty donuts with cereal, candies and sugar glazes. I became glazed over with indecision. This gave me more time to observe the operation of the place. This is clearly a new business. I counted no fewer than 14 employees (that I could see rambling around ). The employees are clearly new to this game and several seemed new to employment with confusion evident and some conversations that would not be confidence building on either side of the counter. After a little more observation, I figured out who the most skilled employee was and made eye contact with her for ordering. I did not try anything too complicated or fancy but in the middle of my order – her eyes glazed over and she disappeared mid box fill to listen to another employee that seemed miffed by a series of misplaced donuts and misplaced pronouns. My donut ambassador eventually came back to finish my order. For $10 I received 12 donuts and was on my way.

Amy's display

As I got to my car, I felt a bit out of sorts. I knew I could partially fix that with a donut but I surmised my real problem lied deeper than that. Internally, I found myself debating on whether this is really an Ohio Donut Trail spot or not. Although the building showed some wear and tear the business was new. And while the donuts sampled were good, a few elements seemed missing. The first was character. While this is an independently owned business (a critical component for the unstated rules of the donut trail) Amy’s is an expanding donut chain. The place seemed to lack a little bit of soul. Almost all Ohio Donut Trail spots offer a mixed of grizzled and old “donuteers” who have plied the doughy trade for decades as well as a few hard-core regulars to guard a seat on a prized stool or to whom one could set their watch by their daily pick up of something or other. The place also reminded me of Voodoo Donuts which in turn reminded my of one of only two (the other was having food poisoning upon arrival to New Orleans) of my epic travel adventures that sucked (were in not for the company – or lack there of – of my companion I would have had the time of my life). Which made me wonder, does the donut trail reward repetition or does it lean to old quirky styles lost to the ages.

donuts

Ultimately what matters is that the donuts are good, the variety is exceptional and this is worth a visit. However, to balance my credo and conscience, I will place this place on Donut Trail probation for several years to give it a chance to build up the character and characters it has not had an opportunity to acquire. I only sampled the cake donuts and can report the Blueberry and Red Velvet are worth every cent.

Amy’s Donuts Columbus (on Facebook)
Address: 650 Georgesville Rd, Columbus, OH 43228
Phone:(614) 641-7721

Monday to Thursday 5AM–8PM
Friday to Sunday 5AM–10PM

Amy's Donuts  Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posted in donuts, Ohio Donut Trail | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Barbeque (BBQ) Shack

Posted by cmh gourmand on May 16, 2016

An underlying fiduciary responsibility I have as the caretaker of this blog is to seek out and discover new BBQ and boldy go, outside the city center. In the case of the Barbeque Shack I did the equivalent of a blind blog date. I saw a photo of some of their food on social media that looked interesting. I was surprised I had not heard of the place before and since it is not too far from CMH Griffin’s school year daycare I opted to give it a try without any significant research other than the address. This being said, I would not typically write a post about such a place based on one trip but since it shows great promise but more importantly because it is in suburban sprawl, I’m asking you, my core handful of loyal followers to give this place a try as well and then add your comments to this post so we have a definitive analysis of this place.

Taking a quick look at the menu online, I place a carry out order for the following: Lunch Special – 2 Brisket sliders with mac and cheese and green beans, 1/2 rack of St. Louis style ribs, side of cole slaw, side of baked beans and bourbon bread pudding. They gave me a pick up time 30 minutes in the future which is great because that is drive time with a few minutes factored in to load a car seat. This place is hard to find. It is buried between a Home Depot and a Wendy’s that has at least two if not three drive thru lanes. When I finally figured out where I was and where it might be this is what I saw.

BBq 1

The shack is indeed a shack. It may have been a Rallys or a coffee to go business at some point. If you are old enough to recall Fotomat, it is not much bigger than one of those. The building is partially obscured by a small tree. It is drive thru / window ordering only but it does have a small shed nearby and several picnic tables on the periphery for dining. While I was waiting a few cars deep in the drive thru queue, I spied a woman wandering the parking lot with a bewildered look on her face but the determination of an Old Testament Jew in the desert. She approached me in my car and asked if one could order without a ca? I told her it looked like drive thru only but good luck. She then approached a window, placed an order and was gone before I became the second card in line.

When I did arrive to the window I was pleasantly surprised to find that my order was 10% less in price than I was quoted because they we too busy when taking my order to explain the discount process to me. I was then asked if I wanted sweet potatoes. I replied that I had not ordered any and they said that was fine, did I still want them. Since is was a family sized looking serving and free I said YES. After I paid they pointed out on my receipt that the next order is 10% off if over $20 if I bring my receipt back with me. So far, all good. Upon arrival back home my research began.

BBQ 2

The first to be sampled was the lunch special. The brisket sliders were good and unexpectedly on French style bread which helped the sandwich hold up to the sauce and the meat. The mac and cheese was better than average. The green beans were above average too (the best green beans in town can be found at Smokehouse Brewing in case you were wondering). So far a promising place but I was not blown away yet.

BBQ 3

Next the ribs. I’m not sure they meet all of the requirements for St. Louis style ribs but they were good. They were sauced properly (neither too little nor too much sauce – the Goldilocks zone). The meat was tender pulling easily from the bone. I wonder if I received the (on the menu) Ohio style ribs instead – which is a term I have never encountered. So still promising but not yet giving up on Ray Ray’s.

I tried the cole slaw. Also good but a bit too creamy than I prefer.

BBQ 4

Next, I decided to take one small bite of the Bourbon Bread Pudding. The moment the first morsel connected with a taste bud I was exceedingly pleased. Most BBQ places have easy deserts as an afterthought. This bread pudding tasted like someone’s great, great grand-mammy made it. It is true perfection mixing great flavor with moistness but not over saturated with any one flavor. At $4, the large serving is a bargain and well worth trip for that alone.

BBQ 5

I then back tracked to my previous foods, sampling each again and still having good thoughts about the items when I recalled I still had some untasted baked beans. Baked beans are almost always a horrible disappointment at any place I encounter them. Most places add a bunch of unneeded junk to them or try to fancy them up so that the other ingredients take away for the core ingredient – the lowly bean. My baseline for baked beans can be found in a can, Bush’s Vegetarian Baked Beans are my go to. They are good by themselves but with just a touch of gourmanding, they can be out of this world tasty. The BBQ shack baked beans exceeded my wildest dreams. While not impressive looking enough to warrant a photograph they were nonetheless great. The sauce was pleasant, neither over or under favored and the only additives were some slow cooked meats – some small bits of shredded brisket and perhaps a few bits of bacon. These are now the local gold standard for baked beans.

And then on to my free sweet potatoes. I had even lower expectations for these but again, I was surprised beyond comprehension. I might rename these holiday style sweet potatoes. Think about the best Thanksgiving sweet potatoes you have ever had – these are better. I can’t fully articulate how, other than saying the consistently is perfect and the taste has just enough sweetness to it to aid digestion.

The BBQ warrants additional investigation which will not happen for me until Fall 2016 at the earliest. But in the meantime as you call all help me out with your own research so add your comments to this post. And when you get your order, please drop off the following at my house: the largest serving of baked beans they will pass through the window and the same for the sweet potatoes and the bourbon bread pudding

Barbeque (BBQ) Shack
5755 Maxtown Rd, Westerville, OH 43082
(614) 899-9227

Barbeque Shack Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posted in BBQ, desserts | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Ohio Donut Trail: Golden Donuts and Diner, Columbus..Southside

Posted by cmh gourmand on May 7, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 4.02.12 PM

I’ve been making a list and checking it twice to make sure I have not overlooked any critical donuteries in Central and Southern Ohio. While I still have a handful to complete before I turn my primary focus to the north, one place in Columbus was absolutely unknown to me. I found a reference to Golden Donuts and Diner buried in a discussion thread about good donut shops. From there I found unprecedented love of the place in Yelp. This prompted even more research as I was convinced that I was going where no bog had gone before until I found a post from James, The Breakfast Grub Guy (who has moved back to the east coast). The post from BGG seemed to indicate the donut were promising and since I have been on a quest to make sure that Mrs. Gourmand has access to the best blueberry donuts money can buy, it became imperative to investigate since this variety had a lot of mentions in the praise for the business.

As a life long resident of Columbus, I had never traveled on Lockbourne Road….ever. As a side note – this area has has lot of history including an air force base, the Tuskegee Airmen, The Monypenny Distillery and canals. I found The business just north of SR 104 in what looks like a former Jolly Pirate building.

Surveying the space, there was a brisk breakfast business going on. From what I could see and smell there are some promising breakfast items here if breakfast is your thing. The display counter indicated about 25 to 30 types of donuts are available at any time but at my arrival there were about 15 different choices. All looked promising so I ordered a baker’s dozen of donuts including blueberry cake, Cherry cake, Blackberry (filling) with vanilla icing, German Chocolate (which I would call an everything donut), peanut, and a “special” which was a donut cooked a little longer than a typical donut and available in both stick and round form. Over a dozen donut knocked me back less than $10 so there is a good value for these sugar bombs.

Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 4.01.22 PM

The special intrigued me. When I asked about it, the woman at the counter stared at me (English is not her first language, but people staring at me after I ask elaborate food based questions is not an uncommon experience) but within seconds of hearing my question (and surveying my interest in his work), the donut maker came out to fill me in on how he makes the donuts known as special). Mark a point for this place for having people who are proud of their craft.

The donuts I sampled were good. The most noteworthy were the German Chocolate and the Blue Berry and other Fruit based cake donuts. The base of the German Chocolate donut seemed to be a German Chocolate cake base with a hint of Devil’s Food consistency to it. It was encased bits of peanut and shreds of both “white” coconut and toasted coconut.

As for the Blueberry and Cherry cake donuts, these were intriguing. These do not have holes in the middle and instead look like the tops of muffins, see the top view example below.

Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 4.01.52 PM

Overall – a good basic donut shop with a large variety and the bonus of full breakfast, lunch and dinner service.

Golden Donuts & Diner
1928 Lockbourne Rd, Columbus, OH 43207
Monday – Saturday, 6:00 AM – 6:00 PM
Sunday 7:00 AM – 12:00 PM

Golden Donuts & Diner Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posted in breakfast, Columbus, Diners, donuts, Ohio Donut Trail | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Columbus Food Truck Cookbook

Posted by cmh gourmand on May 1, 2016

Adobe Photoshop PDF

If you are interested in a copy of the Columbus Food Truck Cookbook you can order online at thecolumbusfoodtruckcookbook.com or find it locally at places like The Book Loft and Lucky’s Market.

The book is the work of Tiffany Harelik who started into the world of food trucks in Austin years ago and has been compiling books like this since then. Renee Casteel Cook is a writer that intentionally found her way to Columbus a few years ago. Inside the book you will find a mix of recipes as well as content about the food truck culture and interviews with many of the better known (and a few lesser known and/or o retired food truck operators). If you are interested in the world and culture of food trucks, this is a good introduction.

So below, I’ll give you a sneak peek – there are my answers to the questions posed to me in the book.


Tell us about your involvement in the food community in Columbus.

Freelance writer with focus on food and beverage since 1998. Created CMH Gourmand 2006 (Blog). Co-Creator Taco Trucks Columbus 2009, Street Eats Columbus 2010, Columbus Foodcast (Radio show) 2011 to 2014, Coordinator at Food Fort 2011 to 2013, Co-owner and Lead Guide Columbus Brew Adventures. Board member Columbus Mobile Food Advisory Board 2014 to present. Social Media and Marketing advisor for businesses and still work with Food Trucks.

How long have you been in Columbus and when did you start following the food cart scene here?
Lifelong resident. Started following seriously in 2009.

How are food trucks part of the Columbus culture?
Columbus is the most progressive city in the country for mobile food and a long history (with food carts) dating back to the 1980’s. They showcase the entrepreneurial spirit of the city and the diversity of what we have to offer culturally and in food.

If it’s someone’s first time visiting Columbus, how would you describe the food trailer scene and where would you tell them to begin? 
Columbus has over 150 active mobile food vendors so it is the largest and most diverse mobile food community in the Midwest and probably east of the Mississippi. Start at a brewery that features food trucks, then go on a Taco Truck Tour or Food Truck Tour with Columbus Food Adventures.

Do you have some pro-tips for people visiting the food trucks for the first time?
You can learn a lot from Taco Trucks Columbus and Street Eats Columbus about the vendors but also the culture, what to expect and etc., so read up then eat up.

Which trucks are most reflective of the Columbus culture?

The diversity of the trucks is most reflective of our city. This is not street meat we offer a mobile food court of choices.

What are the main differences in the food trucks in Columbus versus other cities?
The main differences are the number or mobile vendors and that our city government works with the vendors proactively. We also have a lot of proactive fans that support the industry. And there is a fella we call MikeGuyver that is like the Batman of mobile food filling in for labor emergencies on many trucks

What are the trends in cuisine within the food truck world? 
Trends represent what we see in Columbus and the major cities, a focus on local ingredients, regional cuisines and ethnic cuisine.

What is the future of food trailers in Columbus?
The future looks so bright, you need to wear shades. The first year of our the mobile food program which allows trucks to sell from designated parking spots is growing great and drawing in more new customers everyday. Established vendors are adding more trucks to their operators and moving into brick and mortar operations (Late Night Slice, Paddy Wagon, Mojo Togo, etc.

What’s the feeling of Columbus restaurants towards food trucks?
Many restaurants are working on adding their own food trucks and have been supportive to this type of business for the most part.

What are some local food trucks that have turned into brick and mortar restaurants?
See above.

Is there a high turn over in entrepreneurs who start food trucks or do they have longevity? 
It is a mix. If a vendor can survive the first year, they have a good chance for longevity. Many think a passion for food will get them customers. There is so much more than that, you must have a keen business sense, watch food costs, recruit and retain excellent staff and nail customer service. You can’t just tweet a couple of times per day. You have to understand and actively engage in marketing your business and developing your brand.

How many food carts are there in Columbus?
About 150.

Who are the founding fathers of the food truck revolution in Columbus?

Mikey Sorboro – Late Night Slice, Paul Humphries – Leslie’s Creperie, Brian Reed – Mojo Togo, Dan McCarthy Tatoheads, Jamie “Ray Ray” Anderson. And we have to tip a hat to the Taco Truck Community which started in 2002. Quicho from Taco Nazo and the owners of Los Guachos are the best known.

Are the Columbus trucks mobile or stationary?

Both. Taco Trucks and Ray Rays stay in one place. Most others are mobile.

What are the ‘food trailer parks’, how many are there, and can you share a little about each of the main pods in Columbus?

This did not really sustain here. The main connection is food trucks and breweries. Both have grown up together in the last two years.

Do you want to open your own cart? Why or why not?

I went to Hot Dog University in Chicago to learn about the business and I have worked shifts on a few trucks to understand the operations of the business and I have worked hand in hand with over 40 vendors to help them launch. It is incredibly hard work. When I “retire” I will probably open a Hot Dog Truck called Jimbos

What are some of the laws that food carts must adhere to in Columbus?
Too much to bullet point.

Is it safe/healthy to eat from a food cart in Columbus?

Yes. You can see your food being prepared, that is better odds than a restaurant and we have our green tag inspection program with the Department of Health.

What food truck festivals are happening in the Columbus area? 

Plenty – large and small.


Anything else you’d like to add about your involvement in the food truck scene?
 

One of my greatest honors was receiving the Vendy Community Award at the 2013 Food Truck Festival. There are so many people that have helped grow this community so to be chosen and showcased was a true honor. I was getting ready to leave my job at Food Fort and the boss I had then was incredibly unsupportive in the work I did with vendors so to get that award was a great validation that I knew what I was doing and had done it well.

Posted in Mobile Food | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Columbus Ale Trail Tales: Volume 1

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 29, 2016

I have been fortunate to be able to expand the overlapping cultures/communities I belong to. In the early 2000’s I found myself in the newly established food blogger community, which led to the undiscovered world of Taco Trucks which then drove me to the culture of street food which indirectly led me to a new career which in turn connected me to some in the world of Columbus Craft Beer just before the explosion of craft breweries in 2013 and after. Along the way I collected some new skills, some friends, business relationships and etc. All of those overlapping networks led to a spontaneous project.

Several of us had encountered versions of craft beer trails around the country. My neighbors brought me a flier from Boston that got me to thinking about how it might work in Columbus. John from the Ohio Tap Room contacted me about the same idea at about the same time and within a week we had a group of four of us that then connected with the Ohio Craft Brewers Association, who were just starting to have that thought as well. At that point we thought Experience Columbus might be interested so we met with them. We all thought a Columbus Craft Beer passport of some sort made sense and thus the Columbus Ale Trail was born.

It was a very quick gestation. We decided we wanted to launch the Ale Trail at the beginning of the first ever Columbus Craft Beer Week. This meant we had to create something awesome from scratch in less than two months. Many hours, and ideas, and late night edits later, the first Ale Trail Brew Books were ready for delivery. They started to filter out on May 1st and the first prize redemption for visiting all twenty breweries was on May 2nd. Oh my, we were on to something. The first 10,000 books were gone within a few weeks. With that validation and some quick planning and a bit of tweaking we obtained funds from the breweries to print another 20,000 books.

Today with just a few days left in the first year of the Columbus Ale Trail, the project has been a slam dunk. Over 600 people have visited all 20 listed breweries. Almost 1000 have visited 4 breweries to get a free pint glass from Experience Columbus. And countless people have visited one to nineteen breweries just for the heck of it without redeeming for anything. It has been exciting, humbling and for me, redeeming as well. It is great to be part of an idea that turns out to be successful and in the process helps all of the small brewing businesses get new fans and grow their brands.

As I write this, Volume 2 of the Columbus Ale Trail Brew Book has been sent off to the printer (after a lot of edits, and formatting, and changes, and bears, oh my!). The prize for completing the trail this time around (28 breweries) is a customized deck of cards featuring logos from almost all of our local breweries. It looks great. (See a card example below). The books should be ready by May 13th and the cards should be ready to hand to the first person (and all subsequent Ale Trailers) to go to all 28 sites (hopefully) within the following week.

Smokehouse

Over the course of the past year I have personally passed out almost 2000 Ale Trail books to people on brewery tours. I’ve spoken with over 100 people using the books as I have crossed paths with them at breweries all over Central Ohio. The consistent message is: This is great! I can’t say that anytime in my professional career have I been lucky enough to work on a project that was universally loved like this. What I have heard frequently and what I like the most is that people enjoy the book – because it is a book, not a gadget, or app but something real and tangible that they enjoy looking at, reading through and most importantly getting the stamp (of approval) at each brewery they visit.

While I have heard great stories, my two favorite are documented below and I was lucky enough to have a small part in each.

The two ladies below completed their Ale Trail last fall. They enjoyed it so much they made costumes to wear to their last few stops. I met them at the Ohio Taproom where they came to get their Ale Trail T-shirt to reward them for their efforts. I hope they get to wear these costumes again for Volume 2.

Ohio Ale Trail heroines


ale trail heroines

The image you see below is a cautionary tale. A couple came into the Ohio Taproom while I was wrapping up a tour there. The wife was excited but the husband seemed a bit forlorn. As it turned out, only she was redeeming. He shared a tale of woe in that he had pocketed his book after they hit the last stop, forgot about it and washed his pants without removing the contents. The results are shown below.

ale trail mishap

As part of the Ale Trail team, I authorized the shreds of book as complete and he was validated for finishing the trail too. Lesson for Volume 2, keep your Ale Trail book in a special place and monitor closely. Friends don’t let friends lose or wash a perfectly good Ale Trail book.

Good luck to all racing to finish Volume 2 of the Ale Trail and congratulations to those that finished all or most of Volume 1.

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Ohio Donut Trail: Penny’s Pastries, Logan

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 21, 2016

IMG_3426

Buried deep inside of the Ohio Revised Code, I have a hunch that there is some type of mandate on requirements for small Ohio towns. If I was to guess, it may read something like this, any county seat as well towns numbering over 1500 citizens or greater should ensure the following are located near the city center: Statue honoring a civil war hero, a small park with benches, a traffic circle or small area of one way streets and a bakery. Penny’s Pastries ensures that Logan Ohio meets those standards.

Penny’s is a small, homey, full service bakery that offers a small number of donuts each day. While not the mainstay of the business, donuts are an important enough feature to warrant displaying them in the front window (so customers can see if any are left) and prominent placement of the production schedule at the front door. In addition to donuts they offer cakes, muffins, cookies, etc. Donuts typically sell out quickly so it is suggest you arrive as close to the 6 am opening time as possible to get the best selection. Although I have not tried one, the peanut butter creme filled donuts appears to be their biggest crowd pleaser.

IMG_3427

Penny’s Pastries Bakery
Address: 81 E Main St, Logan, OH 43138
Phone:(740) 385-5190

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Archives: BNA Gourmand, RoadFood Tour with Jane and Michael Stern

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 19, 2016

These events occurred on April 28th, 2007 mostly as recorded. 

In league with Philville Phil, president of the the Columbus Men’s Supper Gang, I journeyed to Nashville, TN to do a dining tour with Jan and Michael Stern of Roadfood.com, Gourmet Magazine and countless books. It was a treat. Along with a busload of 50 foodies, the Sterns, the Roadfood web team, and a German documentary film crew we hit four places and discussed many others.

There was also a group that hit four places in the morning (and a few of them did the afternoon tour with us as well). Below is a description of the morning tour.

“The morning tour will start at 8am at the Loveless Cafe for a classic Tennessee breakfast, including legendary biscuits and homemade preserves. We will then hop in the bus and head into the country towards Franklin and a visit to Merridees Bread Basket for delicious pastries, breads and pimiento cheese sandwiches. Next stop: Pucket’s Grocery, an old-time meat-and-three and barbecue cafe with some of the most succulent pulled pork anywhere. We then return to Nashville for lunch at the ultra-bountiful Belle Meade Cafeteria“.

The rendevous and collection point for the afternoon group was at the Loveless Cafe. This place is famous for food and country music, several up and coming stars have played here on the way to fame. We had a small snack at the country store in the parking lot since the wait time to dine was over an hour.

Documentary Crew

We were trailed by a German TV documentary film crew throughout our trip. I believe I was quoted a couple times, I hope that made it on the cutting room floor (I, like the Amish and some Native Americans do not like to be photographed).

Prince's Hot Chicken

Prince’s Hot Chicken was our first stop. We overwhelmed the small, strip mall establishment with 50 or more people. This is fried chicken dipped in hot sauce or hot, hot, hot sauce. This type of chicken is unique to a small section on Nashville. We ordered the medium – which was very hot even after dabbing with a piece of white bread. Our companions that ordered the hot – were hard pressed to eat much of the chicken due to the heat level. But with a lot of pop and dabbing with some white bread – we got the hot heat down to aid consumption. I do not know how much the employees get paid – I think they may work for free just to watch people suffer from the hot and very hot sauces. However, the hot sauce opened up more digestive “living space” for a lot more food to come.

Hot Chicken

Here is another version of the trip from the Dallas News, including a quote from the Gourmand….

“Jim Ellison, of Columbus, Ohio, tells me I should think of this tour as a marathon. Toward the end, he promises, I would get a second wind. Jim, who runs an ice cream blog, speaks from experience. I remember his advice as we walk up to Swett’s, a spotless meat-and-three, soul-food cafeteria.”

Swetts

We then hit Swett’s, a Meat and three (or two or four) buffet. This was distinctly average food in a typical strip mall with cafeteria style ambiance. The place is typical of the meat and three buffet. Multiple second and third tier celebrities plaster the wall with accolades for the place – so I think the stop was appropriate for the trip. Also – where else can you feed a busload of 50+ people?

Monell's

We saved the best for last! Monell’s is old school, family style dining in a beautiful home in the Germantown section of Nashville. Everything was great and it was amazing that we could eat at all at that point – but we did – including some wonderful desserts. I was able to sit next to Michael Stern and the Roadfood web team and talk food and food writing for the meal (so of course I plugged Columbus for an Ice Cream tour and more). We all shared nicely, passed plates and spent the evening like it was a Thanksgiving supper with family. The staff were wonderful as well. If you go – reservations are critical!

All of the above are shots from Monell’s

On the way home that night, with no agenda in sight – we decided some ice cream was in order to sooth our bloated bellies. We called Philville Phil’s wife Jean, who was kind enough to do some quick internet research and guide us to Bobbie’s Dairy Whip – voted as Nashville’s favorite ice cream shop. We got some twist cones and fries and called it a night.

On the way home the next morning, we made a side trip to Louisville so I could introduce Phil to

Lynn’s Paradise Cafe.

Here is a shot of the breakfast menu – these items were featured on The Food Network with Bobby Flay – Kentucky Farmhouse Scramble (everything but the sink) and Bourbon Ball French Toast. Phil had the Louisville Hot Brown – the signature sandwich of the town. My favorite was the Derby Pie Milkshake. The people sitting next to us at the bar had some wonderful homefries that I was eyeing the whole time. When they left – barely touching their food, Phil dared me to sample the homefries….. All I can say they were the best I have ever had and our server respected my gumption and dedication to recycling.

This is a Louisville Hot Brown – Philville Phil’s favorite new sandwich.

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Archives: WI Gourmand

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 19, 2016

In August (2006) I journeyed to Wisconsin. On the way, with a tip from Road Food, I stopped in West Layfayette, IN (Perdue University) to eat at the Triple XXX Restaurant. The place is a university landmark. It is named for a root beer company that is basically gone now. They still serve Triple XXX root beer and a hamburger with peanut butter on it. Yep – peanut butter. The food was average and I pressed on.

Next stop was Madison, WI (well, after a Tornado Warning, check engine warning light, and 100’s of miles). I sampled several New Glarus Beers – including the popular Spotted Cow and Fat Squirrel. New Glarus is a small town southwest of Madison. The New Glarus beer has won many awards but their desire to maintain the quality of their beer and lower production keeps it mostly in Wisconsin. My Madison hosts, the Parrantos, were big fans and so was I after a few. I was even prompted to liberate a New Glarus pint glass from a local watering hole. My other Madison food adventures included Babcock Hall for a taste of the famous ice cream the University of Wisconsin churns out – it was good. I also took a quick tour the production facility. I had kosher old fashioned donuts hot out of the oven from Greenbush Bakery – SO YUMMY. The Great Dane Brewing Company (123 E. Doty St.) was a great dinner destination for a bison burger, African stew, and a taste of brats. And afterwards, I sadly had to smell, but not eat the great Ethioipan food from Baraka (State St.) near the UW campus. My only disappointment was Ella’s Deli – a well known spot in Madison, famous for ice cream and it’s eclectic decor. The place is very kid friendly with all types of trinkets, gadets, and knick knacks to keep grandparents and kids entertained – but the food was distinctly average and more than moderately priced.

In Mt Horeb, Wisconsin, I visited the Mustard Museum

Mustard Museum

– Mustard Museum –

The Mustard Museum has over 4000 mustards on display and about 500 available for sale, including 3 that are made by the museum. In addition to plenty of free samples, there are interesting posters, momentos, and displays about the history of mustard, mustard pop culture as well as many mustard related items that one would never imagine. The place is well worth the visit.

Museum

I met the CMO (Chief Mustard Officer) Barry Levenson . I really enjoyed speaking with him. The seed for the Mustard Museum was planted when the Red Sox lost the World Series in the 80’s. As he wandered around in despair, he decided he needed something to do as a hobby and picked up a new mustard in a store – then the collection started to grow. Barry is also a lawyer and he has written a very good book about Food and the Law called Habeas Codfish, which he was nice enough to sign for me. Mt. Horeb also has a great bike trail, a good brew pub and also happens to be the troll capital of the world. There are carved wooden trolls everywhere.

However, the reason for my Wisconsin adventure was farther north in the little town of Princeton. I went to the Burning Down the Fox BBQ Championship where I was doing my first gig as a Kansas City BBQ Society certifed BBQ judge. It was great fun and a very good festival. I stayed the night at the Ellison Gray Lion Inn (no relation – but they offered to adopt me) where I had great company and really good Strawberry French Toast.

And I forgot my whirlwind Custard tour of the Milwaukee surburbs with Shannon Jackson Arnold – Churnologist for Breyer’s Ice Cream and my writing good fairy. In about one hour we hit Le Ducs in Wales, WI, Divino Gelato Cafe (excellent gelato and very nice owner) in Waukesha, Oscars – near Waukesha, and Kopps Frozen Custard. Many feel Kopps is the best in Wisconsin – so far I agree. I did not have enough room in my belly to go the Michaels Custard in Madison, but by report – they are in the top five as well.

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Archives: MEL Gourmand

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 19, 2016

There is a special place in my soul for OZ even though I was there there 6 times from 1989 to 2008 for a total of 4 1/2 months. Australia is my second home. Unfortunately they didn’t need any food writers or government bureaucrats (I tried and finally gave up). I’ve been to every state, territory and major city by foot, horse, train, bus, car and plane with the only area untouched the coastal strip from Darwin to Broome.

These are a few of my favorite things.

The Yarra Valley

One of the great wine producing regions in the world. This is an incredible way to spend a day or two with good friends – tour more than one dozen wineries in the area – sampling all day long. My favorite wine of them all is –

Fortified Shiraz

Yering Station Fortified Shiraz

19.8% Alcohol

Yering.com

Another favorite winery was –

Green Point

Maroondah HWY
Coldstrem 3770 Vic

61 3 9739 1110

Open 10:30 AM – 4:30 PM

But there is much more to do in the area –

The Yarra Valley Dairy offers hand-made cheeses and rich homemade organic ice cream as well as coffee, desserts and excellent views. It is located on McMeikans Rd. at Yering and is open from 10.30 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. every day except Friday and Saturday when it is open to 10.00 p.m.

tel: (03) 9739 0023.

Yarra Valley Dairy website

Also not so far away…..
Pig & Whistle Tavern
At Bayview Estate
365 Purves Road
MAIN RIDGE, 3928

(03) 5989-6130

Pig & Whistle Tavern

Pig and Whistle

 

A perfect pub, in the perfect place with great pub grub, fine service, and a winery in the back staffed by an owner that graduated from the University of Michigan. Plus some B & B rooms if you want to stick around.

signs

Another ign

Portsea, (Victoria)

The Grand Hotel is a landmark on the Mornington Peninsula. Built over 100 years ago, The Grand Hotel has a great restaurant, a fine bar, and pefect seaside view.

Grand Hotel web site

Melbourne

 

Mihn Mihn (Vietnamese Cuisine)
94 Victoria St.
Richmond

(03) 9427 7891
Mutiny at the Mihn Mihn

In a nut shell – we refused to leave our table. In spite of a reservation – the owner wanted us in and out within 20 minutes. However we had 3 bottles of wine to drink. Our party consisted of the Gourmand, Ms. Mandy Culph (famous Dingley chick and supermodel), Dan Brindle (King of the Southern hemisphere ) and Katie Murray (my favorite Brit). We refused to accept the rushed service and revolted. In a series frantic of trips, every 1-2 minutes various staff came begging for us to eat faster. They lived in fear of the restaurant owner. When they graciously offered to let us finish our meal in the kitchen after saying they did not serve dessert – we declined. When they tried to sit diners at our table – while we were still eating the main course – we declined. Then the dragon lady owner came – (her famous quote “you are rich, I am poor”), we would not leave. When we did leave, after allowing ourselves about 37 minutes to eat a good meal and drink three bottles of wine while debating the merits of civil disobedience vs. open violence about this situation, the entire restaurant clapped for us because we held our ground (one of the most memorable experiences of my life). We forced the scared bus boy to take a generous tip and told him not to let the owner steal it from him. The food was great – we can never go back. Oh by the way, we were not drunk, that happened about 12 minutes and 1 cab ride later.

Bihn Mihn
40 Victoria St
Richmond 3121 VIC
(03) 9421 3802

Even better Vietnamese food, great service and in spite of two drunken Aussie gals and a brit chick singing karaoke without a machine or music – we were not asked to leave. (I was well behaved.)

Queen Victoria Market
513 Elizabeth Street
Melbourne, 3000

61 3 9320 5822
This giant vendors market has it all: butchers, fishmongers, vegetables galore fruits, wine shops, incredible cheeses, aromatherapy, arts, crafts, bargain clothing and hucksters. There are also regular lectures by leading chefs, market tours, music and more. Built in 1878, the Market consists of several historic buildings which are visited by over 100,000 shoppers each week.

Handorf’s Fine Chocolates

884 Glenhuntly Road

Caulfield South

03 9525 6639

(Many locations – well executed Bavarian Chocolates)

And the Melbourne Cup! A week of tradition, horseracing, hats, heat, and more. I was there for the Makybe Diva win in 2005 and bet on her to win – which meant I won enough money to pay for a very nice dinner the next day.

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