CMH Gourmand – Eating in Columbus & Ohio

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The Search for Great Gluten Free Pizza in Columbus….(has ended?)

Posted by cmh gourmand on January 28, 2019

In July of 2018, CMH Spouse and I were tasked with making some dietary changes for CMH Griffin to see if he might benefit from any of them. We were highly motivated to make this work. One of the items limited from his diet is gluten. I love gluten. CMH Spouse LOVES gluten. Griffin was a fan as well. He has a foragers sensibility to food selection and he likes to eat everything, especially most fruits and vegetables but he has very special place in his evolving palate for pasta and pizza. We did a lot of researching and my wife has engaged in a lot of trial and error to find reasonable substitutes for CMH Griffin. Some have been successful, some have been mildly disappointing and more than a few have been dismally horrible. Our great challenge was pizza. We made it our mission to make sure our little man would not miss out on this staple of our diet which is often a key component of our weekly food pyramid. We also needed to make sure we could eat what CMH Griffin has as well, to ensure he was not suffering but to also prevent him from dumbing down his pizza palate.

We were determined to leave no pizza stone unturned in our quest to make sure our child would have access to not just good gluten-free pizza but very good and we dared dream that we might even find great pizza in the process.

We established these criteria to allow us to guide CMH Griffin on this gluten-less journey. Some of these were added later after a lot of trial and more than a bit or error.

1) Will Griffin eat it
2) Will he eat a lot of it
3) Does it taste good to us
4) Is it still edible 4 hours later
5) Is it edible the next day
6) Can you reheat it
7) Can it be eaten cold without regret
8) It can not cost a fortune.

We have not tried every gluten-free pizza out there, but we have tried most. We have not tried every recipe for homemade gluten-free crust, but we did try a few of the best according to the internet. While this is still a work in progress, these are our findings so far – these are presented in order of best to not so much.

The default toppings for CMH Griffin are either ham and pineapple or pepperoni.

1) Iacanos: So far there is no gluten-free pizza that holds a candle to Iacanos. This was a slam dunk the first time we tried it and it has never failed us since. The pizza pie crust/shell is one of the few things they do not make in house. I have not been able to determine who they source their shells from. We do know from observation, they us use high quality cheese and other ingredients including house made sauce. They cook the pizza longer than most other places but not too long. The crust is thinner. The combination of this crust and longer cook time seems to be the key to gluten free pizza success. Iacanos gluten free pizza tastes great later in the day and is still edible 24 hours later.

2) Pizza House We are two for two on this one. Very good. I liked this more than their regular pizza we tried side by side the first time.

3) Donatos: This is a strong third place finisher but still does not come close to Iacanos. Because we can have this delivered to our home, this has become a frequent flier into our kitchen table. I have decided I like the gluten-free version slightly better than the gluten version of Donatos. The crust is not thicker but it seems denser. It seems to have a trace more flavor. It holds up very well to the next day test. CMH Spouse says that because the cheese goes to the edge, the crust is less disappointing. We like this one, probably more than we want to.

4) Kroger: Not Krogers or Kroger’s by the way, Kroger. The frozen, thin gluten-free Kroger brand pizzas are value priced and a frequent emergency lunch for our little man. The sauce is a bit weak, but overall, this one has the best cost to benefit ratio of any pizza we tried. It has earned a strong fourth place ranking.

5) Teritas: Good. Mainly due to the quality of ingredients and a longer cook time. We have only tried this once. If the location was closer, we would have more empirical data.

6) Masseys: The main failing for this was, and it may seem nuts to say this, too much toppings. The toppings to pizza ratio for Massey’s is always above industry average. In the case of a gluten-free pie, it takes away from the pizza by not allowing it to cook evenly especially the crist. This is still a good gluten-free pizza but to better test this one out, next time we will get cheese only.

7) Tarantos: I can’t remember anything about this one except that it was consumed fairly quickly. We need to test this one more.

8) Hounddogs: I am a long time, unapologetic fan of Hounddogs Pizza. The first gluten-free pizza we had here was the best individual gluten-free pizza we have ever had. Unfortunately, we have never been able to get another gluten-free pizza from here that was 75% as good. We see the most inconsistency here. The gluten-free pizzas range from good to OK depending on who is manning the oven. This is a heart breaker we had the best but it appears to have been a fluke.

9) LaRosa’s: This chain does a good job of making sure their gluten-free pizzas have a special prep area, cook sheet, etc, to minimize cross contamination with gluten. We liked this one but we did not love it and we can’t recall why.

10) Mellow Mushroom: Mellow Mushroom gets a lot of points for providing a lot of detail about their gluten-free pizzas – how they make them, where they make them, using a separate kitchen, etc. As for delivery of the product to the table, our service was horrible causing me to complain stridently and the pizza itself, was worse than the worst frozen pizza you have ever tried. I rank this a firm D-. I would give it an F but I did not spit it out.

We still have a few more to try on our list. If you have tried any of the following, let me know your thoughts in the comment section. This is what we are still curious about trying: Pizza House, Marcos, Harvest and Mama Mimi’s.

These are our general complaints about most gluten-free pizzas.

A) They often have a grainy texture

B) After a short period of time, they develop a paste like texture and consistency

C) They have a “nuclear shelf life” measured in minutes and sometimes seconds after they come out of the oven. They get noticeably less appetizing after an hour and often are inedible 4 to 24 hours later, even in the most perfect conditions.

D) They lack gluten


Special Thanks to CMH Spouse and CMH Griffin for persevering in our quest to find a decent gluten-free pizza.

Post Post Script: Friends have strongly suggested trying out the following places, so we will soon: Pies & Pints, Blaze and Goremade

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Posted in culinary knowledge, pizza | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Culver’s, Swensons & Preston’s, OH My!: A Study and Discussion of Hamburgers with a Culinary Dream Team

Posted by cmh gourmand on January 10, 2019

Even though I have a great apathy and lesser antipathy toward Facebook, sometimes it can be a useful tool. A post I made about Ritzy’s led a to a vigorous discussion about the restaurant (much of it mildly disappointing), the hamburgers they make and hamburgers in general. As the hamburger discussion starting to roll out of control Culver’s and Swenson’s were mentioned several times. Some people had tried one or the other, a few both, but one young man by the name of Kenny, had not experienced either burger and was unsure on his stance about Ritzy’s burgers. When that comment dropped, the decision was made to help Kenny with this deficiency by arranging a K-Dog’s Burger Bash which was a progressive dining on hamburgers. Since we all LOVE Preston’s we opted to include it as an additional burger joint. Prior to embarkation and because there would be children present we opted to drop Ritzy’s at the last-minute to save time, money and calories. Kenny shared he had made it back for a second run at Ritzy’s and found the burgers lacking, so we sent the place packing. (Authors note: I felt mildly guilty about dropping Ritzy’s. The next day I went in for ice cream which was great on previous visits but was disappointing, poorly scooped and portioned and over frozen, ice cream).

We set a date and the deed was committed to. I had an absolute dream team to objectively try Culvers, Swensons and Prestons.

Our line up:

First, the guest of honor, K-Dog, Kenny Donnelly of Kenny’s Meat Wagon. The Man, the Myth, the Meat. Most people are not aware that Kenny killed a bear with his bare hands while cooking an egg….when he was seven.

Joe Arcilla the 61Forty-Niner blog and his partner in crime Chris.

Laura Lee, accomplished chef and the owner/operator of the Ajumama Food Truck

Matthew Heaggans, accomplished chef, some say divisive, of Preston’s and Ambrose & Eve with his fine dining companion Cindy. Those that listen to Chefs in the City on WOSU may know Matt by other names: Chris, Dave, etc. But it is Matt. Matthew if you are nasty.

Ed Kowalski, accomplished chef and one of the men of ManBque Columbus.

Matt Swint, of Matija Breads and his family. Fun fact about the Swint clan, they can eat an entire pig is less than seventeen minutes.

And me, trust me, I was not there as eye candy, I was a charity case for this group.

Our first stop was Culver’s in Powell. If you are not familiar with the chain it started in 1984 in Sauk City Wisconsin. It has grown into a small Midwestern empire. They are known for their Butter Burgers and to some extent their custard. We took a team photo then placed our orders.

Our overall consensus was: meh. Not bad but not impressive.

These were some concerns and lessons learned:
-the burger should be hot when served – not all were
-the cheese should be melted, to the point of infusion, into the patty, here the cheese did not experience that level of heat
-the bun should be toasted – not all were toasted to satisfaction
-a disparate ratio. Size does matter. Most people ordered singles. This started a discussion on the “ratio” in particular the bun to burger ratio. The ratio was slightly off here. This is where we were indoctrinated in the Swint Doctrine, concisely stated as “always get the double” delivered with a smirk by the guy that ordered a double burger melt – ensuring both the right ratio and a properly toasted bread. If you get the double, you increase the odds of a good ratio.

Another take away from Matt and Cindy. The Culver’s in Pickerington is the best in Central Ohio and the Culver’s in Hilliard is better – at least in the heating and toasting arenas.

An additional interesting feature at Culver’s was a screen telling the story of their burgers. Propaganda for our group? Maybe.


Next, we found ourselves spread out in the parking lot at the recently opened Swensons in Powell. We were able to stay in touch by text and I made the rounds from car to car, confusing the “runners” but we had to defer most of our discussion of Swensons to our next stop. Laura told us to get nutella shakes, I listened and it was a good decision. Cindy suggested I try the Potato Teezers, I completely forgot and regret my over sight. The teasers blend potato, cheese and jalapeno – how could that go wrong, in my book it can only go right. But I will have to wait to know.

General pluses on Swensons from the group: great shakes and happy to have cheese curds and potato teezers as snacks.

On the burger side, the group liked Swensons as a whole, greater than Culver’s as a whole, but some of the sum of the parts were off. A few people can not wrap their heads around the brown sugar in the burger (and the bun?). However, the ratio was considered to be better and having followed the Swint Doctrine, I was not disappointed. Overall, Swensons was more than meh and much more for some.


We then made our way to the Preston’s at Woodlands Backyard.

Collectively, we love Preston’s. I have not really written about Prestons because I can’t be objective about it. I have followed Matt Heaggans career, in part because he was a client when he started his path of Culinary greatness in Columbus – including but not limited to Swoop Food Truck, Flatiron, Rossi and a pop up at the Hey Hey. (Here is some more on Matt from the past.) Teaming up with Catie Randazzo, the two have made great additions to the city with Preston’s and Ambrose and Eve. Even though we were all full, we ate Preston’s because the burgers are that good.

It was here, with all of us together again that we discussed but did not need to debate what made a good burger. In spite of being in a collective food coma, we were able to have a meaningful and unanimous conclusion on what makes a great burger. Here are our criteria:

1) The “ratio” specifically the bun to burger ratio. It is not an exact percentage but biting into a burger you know if you have too much or too little bun or burger in the first bite. Let’s call this the Kowalski Goldilocks ratio. If the ratio favors much more meat than bun then that would be properly labeled the Kenny Directive.

2) You can’t have a good burger without a good bun. No Discussion needed here. You cannot have a good burger or sandwich without good bread.

3) The bun should be toasted. Alton Brown, my former doppelgänger would have some science to support this but a lightly toasted bun makes for a better burger – it holds in the juices and everything. It just takes a few seconds.

4) Cheese please. You could have a burger without cheese, but why would a sane person do that. The cheese should be properly melted so it integrates into the nooks and crannies of the patty.

5) Temperature: A well done burger is OK but it hides some of the flavors, the same with medium rare anything else is OK and good to serve. Just make sure it arrives to the diner with more than a trace of heat and properly melted cheese.

6) It should have mayo – mayonnaise to be formal. Mayo protects the bun from getting soggy and retains flavors. It may be the reason I like Whoppers (not discussed among this group) because of the ketchup to mayo proportions.

7) The meat to fat ratio in a burger should be 80 lean meat to 20% fat. Collectively this assortment of chefs has almost 100 years of kitchen experience, I will go with that.

8) Pickles. A hamburger should have pickles. I would add, they should be good and more than two but no greater than four, but you can decide your own number.

There are a few more finer points we could have considered like should there be sesame seeds on buns or not. We did not all agree on the need or lack thereof for onion. All in all, I would declare our mission a success.

In this instance, I would add a ninth truth.

9) A good burger is better enjoyed with great friends.

The year 2018 did not deal the best set of cards to the Gourmand household and as much as I tried to reshuffle them, we just never got a better hand. The biggest loss for 2018 was a lack of quality social time with friends and family. It was good to start 2019 with a legitimate good outing with great people tackling the very real challenge of making people eat too many burgers.

Posted in culinary knowledge, culinary misadventure, hamburgers | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

The Return of (G.D.) Ritzy’s

Posted by cmh gourmand on December 16, 2018

Ask residents of Columbus circa 1980 to 1991 and most will have fond memories of G.D. Ritzy’s. Many have a favorite item they remember from the era that Ritzy’s was a growing empire. In one online discussion about the new Ritzy’s one person was indignant that a vegetable dish from the early days was not in the current menu. I could not even remember said item, but to each their own. Ritzy’s model was to deliver 1950’s style food and service to the 1980’s. For the most part it worked. However, Ritzy’s was doomed to use the model that most Columbus based food businesses of the 1980s and early 1990’s followed – expand too much and too fast and land in bankruptcy (Damons, Max & Ermas, Cooker, Rax, 55 Restaurant Group, Salvi’s…..) the list goes on.

During the peak of the empire, there were one hundred plus locations throughout the Midwest. A handful of franchises survived the fall of the company and to this day, there are original locations including Huntington West Virginia and Owensboro Kentucky. I have visited both. These locations do not offer all of the original menu but show that the concept is sustainable. Ritzy’s was known for thin burger patties, old-fashioned hot dogs, shoestring fries, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and home-made, super premium ice cream with big chunks of ingredients in the base.

My own memories Ritzy’s were hazy at best. Two things kept me from crossing the threshold very often, my budget and my job. I worked at Knight’s Ice cream so Ritzy’s was a competitor. My sole focus of my sophomore and junior year of high school was to save up money to buy a car. Making $2.85 per hour and later making $3.50 per hour as a very young supervisor, it took a long time to save for a used 1979 Chevy Camaro. I did not have the budget for Ritzy’s. While I was a student at Watterson, and the Clintonville Ritzy’s was a briefly a hang out for the high school crowd, I never had the right pedigree to be part of those reindeer games so I opted out. I do have strong food memories of the few times I did venture in – I loved the fries and ice cream. Doing and informal poll of other Columbus residents of my generation, fries is always the answer when asked about what menu item was their favorite.

There as a brief resurgence of the ice cream part of Ritzy’s with a short-lived Vienna Ice concept with Mozarts in 2011 which helped keep the ice cream memories of the business alive at least as a reminder of days gone by.

Graydon Webb was part of the original Ritzy’s team and is the leader of the resurrected concept with his sons Bryan and Corey Webb and family friend Drew Devilbiss. The site selected for the relaunch has a lot of history to it. While it was a used car lot for a very long time, for much of the 1970’s to early 1990’s is was an A&W Root Beer, an independent hot doggery called (I think) Frosty’s and perhaps for less than a year the site of a (Dayton based) Casano’s Pizza. Most of those entities featured drive and park service. The Webb’s had to work with the city to make some adjustments to the street lights and intersection to make entry and exit a bit easier and the resulting work delayed opening day for some time. The site finally opened in September of 2018 and has continued with brisk business since.

The space is small, seating about forty people. There is also a small outside dining area for the warmer weather. There is an outside service window for ice cream ordering. The walls have posters and old ads from the original G.D. Ritzy’s including some from the original Clintonville location. The menu brings back the hits from the 1980’s. The burgers are made with a special blend of ground beef, buns are baked in-house daily, the shoestring fries are hand cut and the a rotating selection of 48 ice creams are offered 16 flavors at a time. The food business consultant/mystery shopper in me could not help but notice that the layout of the kitchen and ice cream area creates a few significant bottlenecks in service and observationally, the distribution of work among employees seems to be uneven at best. On my two brief visits I witnessed one or two employees with too many tasks on their plate and the rest with too few or none. I’m sure these workflow issues will resolve over time but a major need is a redesign of the grill prep area and I can’t see enough available space to make that work. My best advice would be to be patient during peak hours and have a good idea of what you want to order before it is time to start the ordering process.

When it is time to order you are given the option of choosing your own toppings for your burger and hot dogs and these are assembled for your Chipotle style (which was Ritzy’s style in the 1980’s) in front of you. Burgers and hot dogs are grilled when you order them. I had forgotten how thin the burger patties were. They are just a bit thicker than a White Caste patty with frayed edges. Most diners would be best off with a double or triple burger to get more meat in their meal. I found the hamburger part of my burger to be lacking in flavor however I did order a single. The whole can be greater than the sum of the parts, at least with my burger order. The bun was very fresh and the variety of ingredients to pile on can make for a tasty burger experience.

I also tried a hot dog. I was very pleased with the entire hot dog experience. Ritzy’s scored points with me by doing things “right”. The bun was a fresh, grilled New England style bun. The hot dog was all beef and looked like it might have been sourced from Falter’s meats. The coney sauce was the perfect consistency and seemed to be a differently spiced take on Cincinnati style chili.

The fries did not disappoint either. These are classic, hand cut shoestring fries. I could find no fault in them, I could have eaten pound of them if such an option was available. The potato flavor really stands out. Guests are given the option to pile all types of extras on to the fried but the fries can easily stand on their own.

On to the ice cream. To date, I have tried four flavors. As I mentioned before, my first job was in an ice cream shop. I know how to make ice cream and have high standards for it. If I ever made a fortune and have free time, I will take the famous Short Course at Penn State then open an ice cream shop in Athens. In the meantime, back in reality, I think Ritzy’s does an exceptional job with their ice creams. The flavors are rich and flavorful, filled with large chunks of chocolate, cookies, etc. There are several tiers to ice cream with Super-Premium being the highest. What this translates to is a dense ice cream (less air in the mix) with a high fat content (more cream) and high quality ingredients throughout. Ritzy’s holds its own to Graeters and Handels both of which are exceptional in my book with their super premium ice cream offerings.

Overall, my Ritzy’s experience was good. I hope Ritzy’s learned a lesson from (G.D.) days gone by and if growth is in the future, grow the business slow and steady instead of fast and furious so they can sustain this good thing for a long time.

Where to find Ritzy’s
4615 North High St
(Clintonville/Beechwold Borderlands)

Posted in Clintonville, hamburgers, hot dogs, ice cream | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Terita’s: Serving the North End since 1959

Posted by cmh gourmand on December 8, 2018

How is it possible, having lived on the north end most of my life and for much of that as close as 3.2 miles away….. that I did not hear about Terita’s pizza until 2018? The answer, in 2018 I decided it was important to start researching the surviving pizza parlors of the 1950’s. Terita’s is definitely a survivor.

I did some cyber research on Terita’s which meant reading a lot largely positive Yelp and other reviews. Based on this, I determined I needed to make a field research mission to check out what appeared to be a local institution. Long time customers raved about many things the small shop has to offer, the most common item mentioned was the homemade sausage on the pizza and sandwiches. The Iannarino family has run this shop in the same location since 1959. I still have a bit more research to do but I am pretty sure other than Gatto’s Pizza which has been in the same spot and same family since 1952, Rubino’s (1954) and Tommy’s (if Lane Ave. is an original location), Terita’s is the third or fourth oldest continuous pizza operation in the city. That is pretty incredible for any Cleveland Avenue business.

For my recon mission I order a sausage and pepperoni pizza, a gluten-free pizza with ham and pineapple (I was surprised this was an option) and a sausage sandwich. Upon entering Terita’s I was impressed. In spite of being open over fifty years, this place was clean. The crew working the ovens and prep space were “tight” in how they worked together and professional. My veteran eye can assess a good operation in five minutes or less and Terita’s is clearly “on it”. The inside was fairly spartan to mesh with the bunker like exterior. There was nothing fancy inside and just a few tiny tables for small groups that might want to eat in on the fly. As a first timer, I was not comfortable asking about the deeper meaning of their mascot Gus the Pizza Man, but I am sure I will learn more over time. The staff were friendly and recognized me as a new customer so said they hoped I would be back. I will.

I brought this fare home to CMH Spouse and CMH Griffin. Griffin enjoyed the gluten-free pizza so that was an endorsement since is he has tried most in the city at this point. CMH Spouse gave high praise to the sausage. This is quite an endorsement for numerous reasons. My wife comes from a very Italian family in Northeast Ohio. She still has Italian speaking cousins in the old country. Sauce, meatballs and the like are a big deal with her family so quality and especially quantity are never taken lightly. CMH Spouse has a very fine-tuned sense of smell. It is actually super human. If I have more than 2 ounces of beer, she can smell it the moment I walk through the door. If I ate at an Indian restaurant say two to eight hours before, I don’t have to tell her, she will tell me. She knew I ordered sausage the second I placed the boxes on the table. After trying the sausage on the pizza and the sandwich she proclaimed “It’s just like the sausage in ravs (ravioli) and stromboli. That means it meets both the family standard as well as her personal standard which requires a sausage not be too stinky, it can’t be over or under spiced and the anise percentage should arch low instead of high. So yes, CMH Spouse approval of sausage is a big deal.

So let us discuss the pizza. Our “normal” pizza was Columbus style which means thin crust and tavern or party cut. The sausage was tasty and while I do not know the exact source of their pepperoni, Terita’s uses what most would call “old world style” so it curls a bit at the edges and can serve as a reservoir for pizza grease. We liked this pizza. I’d place it in the top twenty for the city, further research may increase that ranking.

https://cmhgourmand.com/?attachment_id=11905

The sausage sandwich was a real surprise. I think the bun is from Auddino’s. It was fresh and flavorful and toasted just right. The sausage was clearly homemade and thick sliced whole patty form whereas most places use sliced sausage links. The toppings were minimal but that is because the sandwich did not need anything other than the sausage although cheese was a good addition. The one half sandwich that survived the first eating was still exceptionally good the next day.

Teritas Sausage Sandwich close up

So initial results look promising and I think Terita’s is will easily sustain another fifty years or more of service.

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

Posted in pizza, sandwiches | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Zoup is Good Food: Triple Bread Boule is Good for Indecisive Soup Slurpers

Posted by cmh gourmand on December 7, 2018

If you are familiar with Heywood Banks and his Song, (I Like) Toast, you can replace that word with soup to understand how I feel about soup. I am a big soup fan. Especially this time of year. My favorite soup destination was Whole World Bakery in Clintonville (which closed a few years ago). While some of the menu could be hit or miss, I never had a soup there that was not exceptional. And each of the soups there was vegetarian or vegan.

When Zoup opened a few years ago, I was happy to see their addition to the soup scene since there are not many grab and go or at least fast casual options for soup that offer more than one or two choices. At Zoup, there are a dozen soups offered daily. You are free to sample as many as you want before making a choice. Their other fare (salads and sandwiches) leans toward the healthy side as well. The price for a good lunch is not offensive either.

When I was contacted by Zoup with an offer to try a Triple Bread Boule, it was very easy for me to say Yes or maybe Yez if I go with their phonetics. The Triple Bread Boule is a special item for the holidays and will be around through December 30th. The Boule is a gigantic loaf of bread that had three holes / or soup retention areas hallowed out in it for three soup selections of my choice. I like having a flight of soup. With twelve to choose from it is hard to pick just one soup to commit to and since they change their soup rotations often it can take a lot of visits to figure out what your favorite soup might be. I picked three very different soups for my flight. I was happy to see the flavors were protected from blending by thick, dense, toasted, chewy bread.

The bread held up well to the soups. The loaf itself was a meal in itself so I had some left to enjoy later. I just had to chew out the soup soaked portions to make transporting easier.

Zoup! The Fresh Soup Company Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posted in restaurants | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Yin Yue and the Lunch Bunch

Posted by cmh gourmand on November 24, 2018

Looking at the title, I expect some of you think I may be writing a review of a forgotten 1970’s movie or sitcom. Alas, while I am sure it would have been a great show, this is the story of a small under the radar American Chinese Restaurant with a large and loyal customer base. One of my missions this year has been to find a low-budget lunch spot. In this I have succeeded. That is good, most of my other missions have been dismal failures. I was first told about this place when I was given a name of Yin Yuey’s with a 17th Ave location. That did not pan out but it gave me enough information to sleuth that what the person meant to advocate was Yin Yue on East Hudson Street. I was surprised in my many adventures I had never noticed this Linden institution. The restaurant has been at the same location for at least forty years and the extended family that runs it may have a local restaurant tradition going back decades before that. Information on Yin Yue is a bit spotty from the owners, while their English is poor, my Mandarin is even worse as in non-existent. Long time customers are unsure of many of the facts themselves and after years of trying to determine the origins of the restaurant they have become content to just enjoy the food. We know the original owner created all of the paintings in the space and the current owners are either nieces, nephews by marriage, grandchildren or some distant connection to the founder. Nearly everything else is legend and lore, except for a guy named Gary. Gary has been dead for decades and no one I have spoken to recalls meeting him, however he warranted at least three menu specials in his honor that remain to this day (Gary Special, Gary Special Shrimp and Gary Special Beef). Let me digress to the food then I’ll tell you about the lunch bunch.

The typical Columbus Foodarazzi would quickly and decisively turn their noses up at Yin Yue. This is unequivocally Americanized Chinese food made by folks that have not yet been Americanized. Anyone that enjoyed Chinese food in 1970’s Columbus would find all of their Chinese comfort food classics here including Wor Sue Gai, Chow Mein and Chop Suey. The restaurant is small, with seating for under forty yet the menu features well over one hundred items including a few Pat Thai dishes.

Looking at Yelp and other reviews for guidance prior to my first exploratory mission, I tried frequently cited “sure things” such as Wonton soup, an egg roll and Wor Sue Gai. All items met my expectations and the bill was about $12.

On this first exploratory mission I was pleased with the short commute time from my house to the restaurant and then my son’s school, I had to hit all three destinations in under one hour or the world would literally end, I was able to run this route with minutes to spare. Other things that did not suck: a good portion size to value ratio, big squirt bottles of several sauces, a fast order to plate of food in front of me time and efficient staffing. I get one lunch out per week and I have a limited budget so it is important to not have a horrible lunch experience. During my first trip I was surprised to see so many cars in the lot and so many people all crowded together at one table. I overheard bits of their conversation and became intrigued by what seemed to be a very diverse and disparate band of brothers that were able to discuss a broad range of topics without coming to blows. I felt this group warranted some more anthropological research, so I decided at least one more trip to Yin Yue was in order to study this tribe.

On my next lunch at Yin Yue I ordered Egg Drop Soup, Crab Rangoon and Chicken Curry Chow Foon. I ordered the last dish mainly because I had never heard of such a thing and it sounded vaguely healthy. Chicken Curry Chow Foon consists of thick, dense and slightly chewy rice noodles, sliced chicken, mushrooms, water chestnuts, bok choy, celery and bean sprouts and of course a healthy dosage of curry powder. This was a good entrée and caught the eye of some diners next to me who decided that might break with tradition and try this dish next time. The soup and Crab Rangoon met my expectations as well.

I was now two for two for meals but this time an early arrival and some bad news for a member of the lunch bunch cut attendance down to two guests and I did not want to disturb the two members in residence since one was helping the other with a family crisis. I decided my questions about their confederation could wait for a better day. I was content with a bill totaling all of $12.36 for a big lunch.

On my third mission, I ordered Wonton Mein (what the heck is that I thought) and the Happy Family: chicken, shrimp and beef cooked with broccoli, carrots, snow peas, water chestnuts and baby corn in a brown sauce. I asked my server what the wonton mein was but the explanation provided was a bit vague. I understood the noodles part. When I ordered it she was shocked that I wanted the Happy Family too. The Wonton Mein is only $5 so I did not understand that it apparently is a full meal for most normal people. When it arrived this was more clear to me the instant it made contact with the table. When I clean plated all of my items my server gave a slight bow of respect.

I soon found out that Wonton Mein is a giant bowl of Wonton Soup with a brick sized block of Ramen rammed into it. Bazinga! The Happy Family did not disappoint either.

By the time I finally finished my meal(s) a large number of the lunch bunch arrived and thus I felt ready to pester them with questions. They were glad to divulge their group history and mores. The founder of the group starting coming to Yin Yun for lunch thirty-eight years ago. The most senior member present during my interrogation has been dining there for thirty-seven years. Most people in the group have been coming for at least a decade and there are a handful that have been assimilated over the last year. Many come in for lunch up to six days per week. Some just come a handful of times during the week. The size of the group varies from two to twenty-five depending on the day. The largest number come on Saturdays at 1 pm. Many are older but some are young. A few are retired but many work nearby. Topics of conversation range from but are not limited to: how the UPS delivery system works, how to better set your contacts in a smart phone, the mechanics of garage door spring repair without lethal injury and how to make the world a better place. I was invited to come anytime and it was made clear that all are welcome. In our present state of community affairs nationally and living in a highly polarized state of society it was pleasant to see that old school ad hoc communities can exist and sustain over time.

I made a few other observations. The art work is diverse and shows a shift in subject matter over time with the older art reflecting traditional Chinese themes and the newer art reflecting the character of the neighborhood.

There is a very modern clock, with the Yin Yue name on it which only tells time with electronic laser dots, it is both out of place and appropriate for the decor here. I like that Yin Yun is somewhat quiet. Although there is their is a constant but muffled chatter in the kitchen and sometimes guests there are no other sounds to disrupt my digestion. No Fox News. No music. There are two small TV’s mounted on the wall but there just show the feeds from the 6-8 security cameras inside and outside the restaurant. On a final note, there is a very clearly marked pick up spot in the front of the building.

If you are looking for value priced, fast and better than average American Chinese food and you would not mind some company and conversation, Yin Yue is a fine choice. One final note, while the Lunch Bunch does not have an official name, it is their understanding the kitchen staff refers to them as the Friends of the Long Table.

Yin Yue
1236 East Hudson St, Linden (just west of Cleveland Ave.)
Yin Yue website

Yin Yue's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posted in culinary misadventure, Gastronomic Stimulus, Vegetarian Friendly | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

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

Posted by cmh gourmand on November 14, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


TGIXpress Bistro & Bar – Awadh India Restaurant
awadhindiarestaurant.com

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Happy Hour at Rockmill Tavern

Posted by cmh gourmand on November 8, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Swenson’s Sweeps into Columbus (A Special CMH Spouse Post)

Posted by cmh gourmand on October 29, 2018

Due to a schedule that is a mix of grueling and chaotic this week, I called in CMH Spouse to pinch hit for me to check out the soft open / test drive of the first Swenson’s in Columbus.

Hello CMH Gourmand fans! This episode of “The Gourmand Eats” is being brought to you by Mrs. Gourmand, a.k.a. CMH Spouse. The Gourmand has been super busy guiding beer and ghost enthusiasts around town, so I was asked to fill in for him this weekend at the soft opening of Swenson’s Drive-In, located at 7490 Sawmill Rd. in Dublin. To say that I was happy to serve as his proxy is an understatement. I, and many of my fellow Northeast Ohio transplant friends, have been enthusiastically sharing articles about Swenson’s opening in central Ohio for months.

Originally hailing from Kent, I grew up dining on Swenson’s burgers and shakes. Every time the Gourmand, myself, and CMH Griffin head to Kent to see my family, Swenson’s is one of the locations we always stop at. Their burgers and shakes are deliciously simple and taste like no other burger in the world. (I feel like I can say this as an authority on burgers having dined with the Gourmand at many burger and dog joints around the nation). ((CMH Gourmand Note: We don’t get out much these days, but pre CMH Griffin, investigatory dining as an occupational hazard of being my spouse)). Swenson’s has been open in the Akron/Kent area since 1934 and has been a favorite of my family for many generations. My grandparents were frequent customers, parking in their giant Lincoln Town Car, flashing their lights, and ordering a couple of Galley Boys, the signature and award winning burger Swenson’s is famous for.

The Gourmand himself is a big fan of the Galley Boy. I like to try to steal the green olives they place on the outside of his burger before he eats them, but prefer to order a good old-fashioned cheeseburger. My typical order is two cheeseburgers, with just ketchup and a grape milk shake. (And yes, you read that correctly, a GRAPE shake. Try it, you will love it.) No matter what burger you decide to order, the bun is always lightly toasted. Growing up, rumors circulated that the bun (or maybe the patty itself), had a little brown sugar added to it. I cannot honestly say whether this is a fact, but the burger definitely has a slight sweetness to it, that pairs really well with the heavy coating of cheese that they add to it.


Swenson’s also produces delicious fried side items you can add to your order. Throughout the years, I have sampled fried mushrooms, fried zucchini, French fries and my all-time favorite, onion rings. I don’t often indulge in the Crispy Extras, because the shake and burgers are quite filling, but if you have never been to Swenson’s before, they are a must try.

Another perk of dining at Swenson’s is that you don’t even have to get out of your car. As soon as you pull in, a highly enthusiastic server will already be sprinting to your car to greet you. If you are a Swenson’s regular, they will immediately take your order, if not, you will be advised to turn your lights on when you are ready to order, and the first server to see them will be there to assist you. Orders turn over fast, and will be delivered to your car on a tray that fits over your window (along with your check). When you have gobbled down the last crumb of your meal, you simply flash your lights and a server will be there immediately to take your tray and payment. The servers all share the tips, so everyone is compensated for their hustle. And hustle they do, rain, shine, or snow.

The grand opening of the Sawmill location is November 9th, and I already know that teams of Kent-ites will be arriving to get their Swenson’s fix. If you are a Swenson’s virgin, check it out, you won’t be disappointed. A second location will eventually be opening on Ikea Way in the Polaris area, conveniently located just down the street from the school that I teach at!

Posted in hamburgers, kid friendly dining, Ohio, restaurants | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

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

Posted by cmh gourmand on October 12, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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