CMH Gourmand – Eating in Columbus & Ohio

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Sunday Brunch at Rockmill Tavern

Posted by cmh gourmand on August 19, 2018

Breakfast…..number five on my list of preferred meals after Lunch, Dinner, Second Lunch and Brunch. One of the downsides of my meal preference matrix, is my most available time to socialize….is breakfast. However, brunch does bridge my fifth favorite meal with my first creating an opportunity for balance and perhaps some open-mindedness towards breakfast food. My new favorite brunch spot, specifically on Sunday, is Rockmill Tavern. Unlike the Short North and other local hot neighborhoods the Brewery District has plenty of easy and cheap parking options but Sunday offers easy access to free meters on Front Street. Hence, this creates a win for visit to Rockmill Tavern.

I’ve written about Rockmill Tavern -> before and it has been a favorite lunch spot for me over the last year. The bonus for brunch at Rockmill Tavern is access to plenty of fresh Belgian Beers with their phenols and esters (aromas related to yeasts using in brewing) which the kitchen very consciously works to compliment and pair with the dishes the chefs create. Another bonus is access to some of the best items from the lunch and dinner menus, in particular, the Tavern Burger. I’m really enjoying their Egg in a Biscuit option. Since day one, I have been so enamored with their biscuit choices that I have lobbied to make them a source of currency. The Basic Egg in a Biscuit is a soft egg on top of an extra sharp cheddar biscuit with a half-dollar sized slice of crispy ham and some oh so health cheddar fat hollandaise! Another version of this adds in some Fried Chicken.

Another good option is Pimento Grilled Cheese on Challah Bread. This takes the most simple and basic of sandwiches and upscales the flavors to make a rich and pleasing sandwich which pairs well with a beer or even a cocktail.

There are several more dishes worth exploring including, but not limited to: Spicy chicken sandwich, roasted and braised beets and Chilaquiles. Rockmill Tavern, under the oversight of Andrew Smith in the Kitchen has always excelled at making vegetables that anyone would want to eat. You will find plenty reasons to eat your vegetables among the selections. What I would like to see added – a simple side of home fries with sausage gravy. Maybe someday.

As if these were not enough reasons to drop in for Sunday Brunch, let me make a very different pitch. As Vice President of the Brewery District Trade Association, I want to let you know that the neighborhood wants and appreciates your business. Please come early and come often. Sunday Brunch is from 10 AM to 3 PM. Just do it.

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A Sad and Unexpected Demise for CBC Restaurant

Posted by cmh gourmand on August 2, 2018

CBC Restaurant, Formerly known as Columbus Brewing Company Restaurant closed with little notice on Sunday July 29th. I visited many times over the years and as the operator of the local brewery tour company used the site as a meeting place for well over 50% of our tours. To say the closing is devastating to me is a vast understatement. The restaurant has a long story and I was happy to share that story weekly for the last five years.

The origins of the restaurant go back to 1997. At that time, Columbus Brewing Company which was fighting hard to keep crafting beer in Columbus made the big step of moving to a production space to allow them to crank up more fermenters to keg and bottle more beer for more people. A unique, synergistic partnership was created by attaching a restaurant called Columbus Brewing Company Restaurant to the front part of the building. The restaurant was owned and operated by Cameron Mitchell but per the operating agreement would be called Columbus Brewing Company Restaurant. The restaurant showcased CBC’s beers and hosted special events for the brewery. The opening general manager Doug Griggs teamed up with Mike Campbell, to buy the restaurant from Cameron Mitchell in 2007. The brewery/restaurant relationship continued, even though the ownership of the brewery has changed a few times along the way. While that synergy soured in the final years, the pairing was historically good for both businesses and all of the customers. For many years, it was one of the premiere craft beer destinations in the Midwest and it was not uncommon for people to drive from out of state for a meal and a few growlers of Bodhi to take home.

At the beginning of the summer, I was excited about their plans to change to a new concept called Oxbow on Short in the fall and our company planned to continue to call them our homebase for many of our tours. I looked forward to adding to the the story of the space. After surviving some hard times over the last few years due to extended construction and in some cases reconstruction on Liberty and Short Streets, things were looking up for the whole team. Several factors combined which led to a rapid decision to pull the plug on CBC Restaurant, with a primary reason to be the failing health of owner Doug Griggs. I miss the extedned CBC Restaurant family and I have been trying to help the workers find jobs with our other partners. All in all, the restaurant had a great run of twenty one years and it is sad we did not have more time with them. The space was important to the growth of the craft community in Columbus and is sorely missed.

Special thanks to Jamie, Jamie Lynn, Vince, Jen, Rusty and Kate for so much extra help and attention over the years.

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LaRosa’s Pizza – Greater Cincinnati

Posted by cmh gourmand on July 27, 2018

In some previous posts or ramblings depending on your point of view, I have alluded to an inability to connect with Cincinnati. Oddly, my first ever intentional food only trip was to Cincinnati around 1994 or 1995. During a day trip I went to Camp Washington Chili, Gold Star Chili and LaRosa’s Pizza and a few places I have forgotten. The subsequent year I skirted the suburbs with a trip to tour the United Dairy Farmers Ice Cream Plant and Aglamesis Brothers Ice Cream, both were exceptional. Otherwise future trips were mainly limited to Jungle Jim’s runs. I have watched and studied the growth of LaRosa’s Pizza which has been a southwest Ohio institution for many decades. Even though there is now a location in Dublin, I decided that since CMH Family was in the metro area to visit the Newport Aquarium we might as well give LaRosa’s a visit. Two other deciding points: although we avoid chains in the food education of our son, my wife and I do find the large booths of chains are CMH Griffin friendly (mainly for containment); and we have been experimenting with a Gluten-free diet for the young fella and LaRosa’s has Gluten Free Pizza. We found a LaRosa’s near EnterTrainment Junction (a great family spot) and decided to explore what LaRosa’s had to offer via a late lunch.

I lead a pizza tour and as part of that ask people about their favorite pizza places. Whenever LaRosa’s comes up people always mention the sauce. My vague memories of a pizza consumed over twenty years ago was that the sauce was sweeter than even Columbus style pizzas. This is definitely still the case.

We ordered a regular thin crust pizza Buddy’s Deluxe (named after the owner): pepperoni, sausage, spicy sausage, banana peppers and capocolla ham; a gluten-free Hawaiian Pizza and an order of Rondos – oven-baked blossoms (sheets of balled dough) brushed with garlic-pesto sauce, stuffed with provolone cheese and pepperoni. I’ll start with the last item because it was my favorite. A Rondo is reminiscent of a mini calzone or pepperoni roll. These were light, fresh and filling. A group of six come with a side of sauce. Our server mentioned that (at least in Cincinnati) for about 1 month each year specialty Rondos are available with Montgomery Inn Pulled Pork and other toppings in them. She said these were very popular and sell out fast. These also held up well as next day snacks. Our regular pizza was OK. The toppings were higher end, premium ingredients. The gluten-free pizza was also OK, it is hard to get excited about Gluten Free – but there are some exceptions (a later post) but this was not one of them. Overall, we found the pizza to be better than average but not something to rush back for. If we are near a LaRosa’s in the future, we will come back for more Rondos and try some subs.

However, there were a lot of things that I liked about LaRosa’s and thought they did really well to the point it is worth writing about (I rarely write about a chain). Our service was good and we really liked the gigantic kid friendly table mats with a side of crayons.

Other little things I liked added up to a lot. Each table was well stocked with shakers for Parmesan cheese, red pepper flakes and oregano. A riser is provided at each table to place your pizza on. The paper napkins are a dense, high-grade of fancy paper napkin which I am sure cost an extra cent or two. Several varieties of locally made Husman’s potato chips are available to buy at the pick up counter. The lobby has a variety of neighborhood and LaRosa’s history posted on the walls. This location, since it was in Mason, had information on the famous, 500,000 Watt WLW radio station. Collectively these small items which show an attention to detail and attempt to localize a chain makes a place that serves average pizza worth mentioning.

LaRosa's Pizzeria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Silverton Donut Shop, Cincinnati: The Ohio Donut Trail

Posted by cmh gourmand on July 26, 2018

Followers of the Ohio Donut Trail may falsely believe that the roads of these adventures are paved with sugar and carbs and everything nice. However, the Donut Trail and blog posts in general are not always the non-stop joy they seem to be. Sometimes the trail can lead to intense disappointment. There is a long wind up to this pitch so get comfortable. When my Ohio Donut Trail adventures started it was as a distraction during a time I felt lost. People I had worked with for over seventeen years, people I had helped advance in their careers, served loyally and in one case, helped move, very casually decided to fuck me over and destroy my career without warning or cause. Not for anything that I did, but so that they could unseat someone who had been out to get for years and hid a personal grudge as a departmental change. Instead of dealing with one person, they reassigned an entire department. I was the collateral damage. My brain could not process how or why this could have happened and how these people I had supported for years could each allow me to be ground up by this train wreck of a political decision. So I did the only thing I could – invested my time into numerous side projects that I thought might distract me from my rage. Ultimately that did not work. So that is part of the origin story. Next, I have never been able to connect with Cincinnati in the way that I do with Athens, Cleveland or even Dayton. Cincinnati has never felt like Ohio to me, it has always felt somewhat foreign to the Midwest. In addition, I have always hated driving in Downtown Cincinnati, the ribbons of freeway create some elaborate Rube Goldberg Device designed to create confusion, chaos and death. However, the needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few or the one, so I felt a duty and calling to fill in the holes on the Ohio Donut Trail and many of those left are in Cincinnati. Now, finally, for the current disappointment, when I pulled up to Bonomini Bakery on Blue Rock Street I saw this……….

It happens more often than one would think. I often visit places that I opt not to write about and sometimes, I just can’t get into a place. So my only alternative was to go to the next place on my list, Silverton Donut Shop about 15 minutes away.

This shop has a bit of back story to it. It started as Pleasant Ridge Donut Shop in 1989 and then moved on 2011 to become the Silverton Donut Shop. It should be noted that this is a certified Kosher Bakery (which may be the first of this kind on the trail to date). The shop is pretty generic on the outside and barebones on the inside. I was happy they still had donuts left since many online reviews indicate they often run out early in the day. The signature donut here is called the Klunker (sometimes called Clunkers at other shops). Klunker’s are German in origin (and Cincinnati has deep German roots). These are muffin sized donuts without any holes that are encased in a thick sugar glaze.

CMH Spouse has a hierarchy of donut needs which follows this order: Blueberry, Eclaire, something creme filled or something with fruit. Using this criteria as well as what was left on the shelves, I obtained a Bavarian Cream Donut for her and a Buttermilk Glazed donut to round out the trio. My wife thought her donut was OK. I liked the Klunker and the Buttermilk donut but was not moved to any emotional or irrational exuberance by what I tried. This is a good, basic donut shop that has a reputation for having great coffee. The most notable feature for me, is the proximity of an Esther Price Candy Store only one minute away which allowed me to stock up on some hard to find Dayton area chocolates (and these shops offer plenty of free samples including a gummy army man for CMH Griffin).

There will be more Ohio Donut Trail adventures…..but it will be a while.

Silverton Donut Shop Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posted in bakery, donuts, Ohio, Ohio Donut Trail, Road Trip | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Happy Dog, Cleveland

Posted by cmh gourmand on July 24, 2018

If you read my various posts in the CLEGourmand category you know I am a BIG fan of Cleveland. The people and the neighborhoods have an unquantifiable character that Columbus does not have. A part of it is pride, a big part is loyalty (supporting the Browns, Indians and Cavs is often very hard) and other elements that would best be labeled je ne sais quoi.

What led me to Happy Dog was a text from a native Clevelander. To say the text was provocative and inflammatory would be an understatement. The texter is a lifelong friend of the Grumpy Old Man (a “victim” of some Gourmand southern Ohio adventures) and in spite of being a corporate man has some very left leaning tendencies. He too has experienced a three lunch afternoon with me in Athens and knows my unwavering devotion for O’Betty’s Hot Dogs. In spite that (and in spite of him being at least a lukewarm fan of O’Betty’s) Mr. Suit stated (profanity, swagger and other off-color commentary edited to protect the innocent) Happy Dog is better than O’Betty’s.

Clearly these were fighting words so I requested photographic documentation and asked for less graphic commentary. I also did a lot of Googling and researched this so-called better than O’Betty’s Hot Doggery. Online, Happy Dog looked to have some merit although this assertion of “better than O’Betty’s” was clearly the rantings of a mad man but I placed a visit high on my to do list for my next Cleveland trip. Eventually, I made my way to the hallowed doors of Happy Dog.

I immediately took a shine to the place. The location I visited is in the Gordon Square neighborhood, which has a fair number of hot spots (like Brewnuts) but is still rough enough around the edges to have some character and a sense of communal community. The outside is nondescript other than covered bike parking and a sign that could easily be mistaken for a dive bar or dog groomers. The inside had an old, multi-generational, pleasantly battered feel so familiar to many of my favorite Cleveland haunts. I scooted CMH Spouse and CMH Griffin into a booth so we could begin the critical and crucial work of determining our order.

The Happy Dog menu is both extensive and simple. Step One: choose a base of hot dog (100% beef or vegan), burger, tots or fries. Step Two: review a list of fifty plus toppings, dips and etc. to add to your hot dog or whatnot. These include but are not limited to items such as Japanese Yum Yum sauce, top-secret Fry sauce, bourbon pork and beans, pimento mac & cheese, vegetarian lentil chili, Fruit Loops and so on. You then take an order sheet and check off what you want added to each item you care to dine on. The depth and variety of toppings was impressive but I do have one criticism. As a graduate of Hot Dog University and a visitor of the Mustard Museum, I am concerned that only three mustards are listed on the menu. Cleveland alone to home to two hot dog worthy mustards – Bertman’s Ballpark and Stadium Mustard and I could see neither on the menu. Less than ten offerings of mustard goes against the underlying philosophy of Happy Dog. This could be rectified with the placement of a variety of mustards in a communal area.

An eclectic order of hot dogs, fries and tots were ordered and found their way to our table.
The CMH Family found all to be satisfactory. My wife, who holds high standards for many things and who maintains a very high tolerance for my advocacy for food adventures in establishments and neighborhoods she finds to be both suspect and questionable approved of Happy Dog. She is on the record as stating, with equivocation, their fries are the best she has ever had. Both she and I concurred that the fries were better than O’Betty’s. We liked the diversity and quality of the toppings. I thought the vegan hot dog / sausage I had (I ordered a regular hot dog too…..duh) was the best vegan / vegetarian fake encased meat product I have ever consumed. (I tried a lot – especially during a two year period when I was a five day per week vegetarian). I would have liked the buns to have been steamed or lightly toasted (as is the O’Betty’s way). I am still of the opinion that O’Betty’s executes a slightly better total hot dog but Happy Dog is a strong number two for best in the state. Also, it is not fair to compare the two especially since Happy Dog has at least seven times the square footage as O’Betty’s and my Athens hangout has more experience in the hot dog trade. So while Mr. Suit was wrong, he was right is determining that Happy Dog is a most superior spot for hot dogs and much more (live music, cocktails, deep beer list and while most items are locally sourced, because they want the best, they vegan dogs comes from Seattle). We all win when we go to Happy Dog or O’Betty’s. And we all lose when we put ketchup on a hot dog.

I visited Happy Dog on Detroit Ave. in Gordon Square.

Posted in CLEGourmand, hot dogs, Ohio, Road Trip, Vegetarian Friendly | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Brewnuts, Cleveland: The Ohio Donut Trail

Posted by cmh gourmand on July 19, 2018

I have been an advocate of pairing donuts with beer since at least 2010. Being a peripheral member of the craft beer industrial complex, it was inevitable that Brewnuts would come on my radar. While I wish I could say it was love at first bite, for years I had to be content to love Brewnuts from afar for alas, my life is in Columbus and Brewnuts was born in Cleveland. The description from the Brewnuts website provides some insight as to why I love what they do. I would say I “got them” the first time I heard about them.

Brewnuts is the lovechild of two Clevelanders – Shelley & John Pippin – who gave up their jobs working for “The Man” to pursue their three favorite things: donuts, beer and Cleveland.

Long story short, one night Shelley bolted up in bed and asked John what he thought about the idea of making craft beer based donuts. After a long pause he said “I like that.” The next day we went out and bought a countertop fryer and got busy hatching our plan to make Cleveland’s most unique and delicious donuts

The donuts are made with beer. They are hand crafted, in small batches without pre-made mixes. The varieties are inspired by the local beers they pour into the mix. When Brewnuts started they could be found in limited quantities in select places in Cleveland like Phoenix Coffee. When I saw they were building out a storefront that would also be a local craft beer bar I knew I had to get there somehow, someway, someday soon….but I had to wait a very long time to make my donut Haj. Brewnuts was everything I wanted it to be and more the second I walked through the door.

I had a limited time to explore since I had a child melting down and a spouse that was literally melting from the heat. I had just enough time to explore the place inside and out as well as to order two donuts. Long time readers of the Ohio Donut Trail adventures know I am a cake donut man, but in this case, I was happy to consume yeast donuts….and I liked it.

I tried one cannoli donut. It tasted like some of the best cannoli I have sampled anywhere. It was fresh, flavorful and clearly used premium ingredients. I also tried one Limoncello donut. This tasted like some of the best Limoncello I sipped in Italy years ago. This donut was also super fresh. As the menu board noted, it did contain alcohol. For most of the donuts, the ABV part of alcohol is cooked out in the donut making process but for the high-test stuff, a trace off alcohol remains. It this case it just added more flavor to the donut. Both donuts were exceptional. If I had time (and a budget) to try more I would have gladly studied these in-depth seated at the bar while creating craft beer pairings for hours on end.

Speaking of craft beer, the selections showcased the best of what Cleveland craft beer has to offer and the beer menu would rival any other craft bar in the region with a similar number of taps. Brewnuts does everything right. It is a great addition to the Gordon Square neighborhood. And it is yet another reason why I love the CLE. Donut Mess with Cleveland.

Brewnuts Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posted in bar, beer, CLEGourmand, donuts, Ohio, Ohio Donut Trail, Road Trip | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Donut Scene, Strongsville: The Ohio Donut Trail

Posted by cmh gourmand on July 18, 2018

The Donut Scene was suggested to me by the esteemed and effervescent Liz Martin – a local super food focused person and event maker. Ohio Donut Trail research is being bolstered by some family trips to Northeast and Southwest Ohio this summer. This is good news for some of you that like a good donut and bad news for the Dining Duder (aka ChairmanL) who detests words wasted on donuts.

The Donut Scene is a bit nondescript, buried in the exact middle of a small retail strip off Pearl Road. This is a 24 hour operation, which makes it a popular donut destination for 2nd shift workers and late night revelers. The place opened in 1983 but looks much older. The decor is classic donut shop – simple counters, stools and because this is Ohio, a big American Flag draped on a wall. My teen-aged counter person was friendly and upbeat. I tried a wide range of donuts in order to be comprehensive.

This was my first donut research mission without my beloved porchhound CMH Tobias but this was the first joint team assessment (reluctantly) with CMH Spouse and (with great enthusiasm) CMH Griffin.

My wife’s go to donut is generally a blueberry cake with maple glazed a close second. Both of these were sampled and she found them to be satisfactory but unexciting. She thought the maple had a slight pumpkin flavor to it.

CMH Griffin, sampled a small piece of a cake donut with sprinkles and a small piece of a cherry donut. These were consumed with significant gusto. Over the course of the next 24 hours, CMH Griffin consumed about 1.5 donuts. Considering we have been experimenting with a no gluten diet and low processed sugar diet for him, this was a poor decision on my part. CMH Spouse was quick to point this out with her trademark sarcastic disdain. This was warranted because CMH Griffin was wound up for the rest of the evening so neither of us slept more than a few hours.

The Donut Scene has a large variety of cakes, cookies, apple fritters and such as well. I did not notice this until I left, but in reviewing my photos (see below) I spied a food item I have not encountered before: Kilatchy. Had I seen this at the time I would have ordered one. I think it may be a very interpretive spelling of Kolache. If you go to the Donut Scene, please find out for me and post here to let me know the story.

My favorite donut was a chocolate glazed French Cruller. Before I started down the strange, long and sugary path of the Ohio Donut Trail, the cruller was my favorite donut style but it lost some of is hold over me since they are harder to find in Columbus and rarely very good. This cruller was the best I recall having in this decade.

I asked about customer favorites and was told that Devils Food and Sour Cream were the top-selling donuts. If I had looked before asking I would have noticed the rack/trays for both were three times bigger than their peers.

All in all, the Donut Scene is worthy of the Ohio Donut Trail.

Donut Scene Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posted in donuts, Ohio Donut Trail, Road Trip | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Ho Toy: A Downtown Discovery, Oh Boy

Posted by cmh gourmand on July 8, 2018

Over the last decade I have occasionally driven by the classic Ho Toy sign and wondered about its origins. Due to its proximity to the former Lazarus Department store I just assumed Ho Toy was defunct long ago. A post by my colleague, Joe, the 614orty-Niner concerning Columbus restaurant history let me know it Ho Toy is still serving the public. Since Ho Toy was indeed open and like me, Joe had never dined there before (which is saying a lot considering he worked just around the corner for many years) this was clearly a call to action. So a text was sent and a lunch date was set.

The Ho Toy name goes back to 1959 when it opened at its original location on Town Street. In 1980, it moved the current location at 11 West State Street taking over a former two story Burger King location. The decor dates to the 1980’s or even earlier and it’s Burger King roots show: formica counters, vinyl booths (now covered with plastic sheeting), Burger King style primary colors in the background as well as the carpeting and flooring with some faded Chinese paper lanterns added for character. During the heyday of Ho Toy both floors were busy and up to seven servers would work the front of the house. Today a busy shift might see two servers in service. What Ho Toy does consistently deliver is Americanized Cantonese Chinese comfort cuisine classics.

The current owner purchased the restaurant in 2003 (a few years before Lazarus closed) after working in the kitchen for many years. He incorporated Thai cuisine into the menu. Joe and I opted to work as a team by ordering three items from the menu: Lo Mein, Chop Suey and Phad See Ew. We chose Chow Suey since it is the epitome of a dish created for the American palate. Joe brings considerable expertise to this table having grown up in the Bay Area with Filipino parents, trips to authentic Chinatown restaurants were part of his formative years. And like me, his formative years also included a fair amount of La Choy Chinese food and a liberal amount of Spam and Vienna sausages.

We found the Chop Suey to be more than passable. We both commented in the freshness of the vegetables as well as the chicken in the dish. I was most intrigued by the fried rice offered with the entrée. It was a deep brown with just a trace of vegetables incorporated into it and had a very light, un-fried flavor to it. Looking at some Yelp reviews for Ho Toy this presentation of fried rice seems to have created a lot of ire with some customers over the years who were unable to wrap their heads around any non traditional approach to a non traditional Chinese dish.

The Lo Mein featured fresh vegetables and offered no surprises so both Joe and I found this dish to meet expectations.

Moving on to the Thai side of the menu, I dug in to the Phad See Ew. I was offered the choice of mild, medium or hot on my space level. Since I was not familiar with the baseline heat of Ho Toy I opted for medium which I would rate at a 6 on a 10 point scale for heat and spice. This dish combined wide egg noodles about the size of a tortilla chip, broccoli, carrots, napa cabbage and eggs in a flavorful brown sauce.

I had visions of a Kahiki racing through my head when I ordered a lunch time Mai Tai. However, there was no umbrella and a only trace of alcohol in the pint sized concoction I was served so my dreams were dashed.

Overall we found the menu to resemble the Lake Woebegone of Chinese and Thai food, everything was above average at an average price. If you are a downtown worker or visitor Ho Toy is worth dropping in for a nice lunch with a side of time warping travel to the 1980’s or earlier. If you happen to host a progressive retro dinner club, this would be the right environment to eat your daddy’s Chow Mein. You will also find a bit of dining history from other places on your table.

Our server was friendly and diligently answered my numerous questions about pretty much everything.

When you make you haj to Ho Toy, I’d suggest a trip to the second floor. In my case, it was necessitated by a need to go to the only functional restroom but I discovered a nice view of the Statehouse (see the photo below) as well as some interesting bathroom “humor” (see the photo below the majestic view).

Ho Toy Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posted in restaurants, Vegetarian Friendly | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Toby and Me: Requiem for An Appalachian Porch Hound

Posted by cmh gourmand on June 25, 2018

I started writing this requiem in April of 2017, while watching Marley and Me (by accident) with Toby. I had read the book many years before. On this particular afternoon we were both home alone and I happened to flip channels just as the movie started….and I was sucked in. Looking over at Toby towards the end of the movie I knew that when the time came, I would be a wreck. That being the case, I decided to start on this post while we were still in the good times. When there were changes in our life together or if I was worried about him, I would come back to this post and tinker with it add in more details. It helped me focus on one thing – writing – instead of a dread of what was to come. There are less than a handful of things that could bring me to tears, the one sure thing is a dying dog. Especially, MY dog. My best friend and my most loyal associate – Tobias J. Dog. Readers encountered Toby many times here over the years….

I had too many chances to practice our end. Toby had a 1.5 pound tumor removed from his front leg and chest in January 2015. He barely survived that. I barely survived that. We both fought hard during his recovery to get him back to his prime form. He had a smaller tumor removed from his rear leg in August of 2015. Both times he had very bumpy convalescences. Toby does not do well with pain medications and he does not do well with being dependent. The same for me.

Our toughest challenge was December of 2016. After a two month stint of CMH Spouse and CMH Griffin being sick, I came home one Friday afternoon, looking forward to a house with no impaired inhabitants and an opportunity to catch up a gigantic backlog of work in my office. Instead, I found Toby lying in vomit on the floor having what looked like a seizure. I could see he was dying. I was not ready for that. It took about 3 hours to get into the vet, by that time, he was no longer rolling his eyes but could not walk.

As I carried him through the door I thought the odds of putting him down were against his favor. He had other plans. At the vet, I was told he had Old Dog Vestibular Disease, which mirrors a stroke. He was given some anti-nausea medication and a very poor prognosis. If I could get Toby to eat, he would probably live. If not, his stomach would twist and that would be that. Toby going an hour without wanting food was nearly unheard of, so I figured he would be back on track within a day. I was wrong. I spent the next several days carrying Toby outside to go to bathroom and helping him stay upright. During the night I slept with him on the floor or a couch to be ready to get him out the door when he needed it. When I went upstairs, Toby did not attempt to follow…. and that never happens – he is always in line of sight of me. That was a very bad sign. VERY BAD. I could always count on him being within five feet in most circumstances unless food, a fetching lass or a squirrel is nearby.

The bigger concern was food consumption. He would not eat. No ice cream. No steak. After a few days a bit of a hamburger. I did do some research and found a vet prescribed “crack-like” wet dog food that was considered a sure thing. Not quite (it smelled atrocious) but he ate some. After two days he started to get back on his feet like a drunken sailor. Then Toby decided that the wanted to go back to a steak only diet. (“Tobias, T-Bone does not stand for Toby bone”). That lasted a few more days. After two weeks he was back to about 85% of his old self and after a few months, 88%. He had taken a hit and the biggest damage was to his “irrational exuberance”. His back legs never got back to normal. Over the course of 2017, his hind legs started to fade due to old age and neurological damage. We saw the intensity of his many interests fade with one exception, he became even more of a food mooch. His ability to continually place himself in the path of CMH Spouse causing near fatal falls (daily) increased exponentially – increasing the likelihood of one accidental death (CMH Spouse) and one murder (CMH Tobias) ten-fold. As the year progressed we also saw a 420% increase in Bambi slides on any non carpeted surface and non-controlled falls down stairs. For me, barely accepting my own ungraceful aging, facing Toby’s mortality daily was increasingly demoralizing. While his mind and spirit were still strong his self-sufficiency and rock solid self-esteem was in a rapid decline.

As 2018 progressed we added daily pooping inside the house, often twice per day, sometimes thrice. The year 2018 has been an absolutely painful year for our family and the decline of my old friend was draining in many ways. Some days, I just hoped Toby would die soon. I did not want hime gone but it was painful to experience him descending into decrepitness. I felt guilty about my thoughts but it was hard to see him suffer while my heart and soul were running on fumes for related and unrelated reasons. The daily addition of poop to scoop inside our house combined with daily carpet cleaning usually right after I let him back inside or when returning from a five-minute walk was demoralizing to both of us. On occasion, I found him trying to eat the evidence. He could not stand or walk on our wood or tile floors so we kept adding more and more rugs to each of the rooms so he could move around the house without wiping out. We had a vet visit in February which showed a major increase in negative liver and kidney values and a decline in his neurological function in his hind quarters. There was a pretty good chance either of this ailments could be related to a tumor of some sort. As I talked about the struggles in our household some people told me to just put Toby down (the vet never suggested that). I knew his time was limited and I was waiting for a sign that he was ready or that it was the right time. In the back of my mind, I was hoping he could make it to his sixteenth birthday (120 in dog years) which was either March or May. His mind and spirit were still there but we were watching his body rapidly declining. He never expressed any pain and any trial of pain medication seemed to make him worse. He could half-heartily wag his tag and never at full arch. His tail was no longer the constantly curled, spring-like whip of his first 15 years. I noticed that he did not bark any more and vocalized less…but his eyes were bright and his “smile” was often wide. At night, with a lot of effort, he would find a way to make sure he was touching a part of me with part of him.

In May of 2018, we got to the point where he could not meander upstairs on his own, without falling back to the bottom four times. He could not travel down the stairs with any controlled direction. Then he could not sleep without falling off the bed several times. After two weeks of sleep deprivation, a child with croup twice, me with pneumonia and having stepped in poop at least three times, it was time for a dreaded change. At the end of May, he was exiled to sleeping in my first floor office at night. The door is mostly glass so I could see his face reflect the absolute betrayal he felt. After fourteen plus years of devoted loyalty: sleeping with me most of that time while enduring girlfriends, my extended disappearances to the antipodes, a wife that came with her own dog and then a child with an aptitude for stepping on him like a cushion – I had finally failed the pact of our pack. The year 2018 (so far) has been among my lowest of years, this moment of first exiling him in the office was the nadir of nadirs. My greatest best friend had decompensated from the epitome of vigor and the supreme example of the finest Appalachian Porch Hound of our era to an Appalling Poop Hound. There was nothing I could do to slow or stop the decline. And I had nothing left in me to fight it or to fight hard for him. As we entered June, he had two more vestibular attacks which lasted hours instead of days. He somehow rebounded slightly better than before each time and he had some semi-OK days. On some days it looked like he might rally for a run at 2019, on other days not so much. Through all of this he was still the greatest food mooch of all time. Over the last year he had dropped from 66 to 57 pounds but could still eat all day if allowed….and he tried.

But let’s journey back to the beginning before detailing the end. Born in March or May 2002, I know little about his first 18 months of life. I do know he was in at least eight foster homes before we crossed paths. I know he is was a non graduate of the Chillicothe Correctional Center’s Dog socialization program. I know he had a serial adopter named T****** (name hidden to protect her stupidity) that went back and forth on committing to him as a long-term dog and at one point had a boyfriend determined to transform Toby into a spike collared fighter. Throughout 2003, a co-worker pestered me about adopting this dog. He was in bad straits. No one would take him. I saw a photo of him in his spiked collar looking like a beast and gave a firm thumbs down. He was too big and a brute. I did not have time for a dog between work, graduate school, freelance writing, traveling and the occasional girlfriend, I was not home long enough to socialize anything, including myself on more than a few occasions. By February of 2004, I had finished school and was in between projects so I finally relented to foster Toby for two weeks. I would give his current foster a short break and could test the idea of sharing my living space with another creature (human or canine).

On a Friday night of President’s Day weekend (3 day weekend for me as a government drone), he walked into my house as if he owned it. I had a dog crate from a previous shared custody canine, a few hand me down dog items and an open mind. I discovered that what I had been told – he can’t be walked was largely true. I discovered this by having him pull, tug and generally drag me down my street with the strength of a full dog sled team. After a couple of weeks, it turned into a controlled drag with an occasional yanking out of my arm sockets. On our first night together, he crated without incident then proceeded to cry non stop for two hours. When I let him out, he pretended to head for the kitchen to get a drink then did a 180 and ran at high-speed before vaulting 5 feet high and 10-12 feet long to land in the middle of my bed. Once he spot was secure, he refused to move. That was a routine we maintained for the better part of our time together. Some nights I would hear the run, then a whoosh in the air and wait for him to land sprawled out next to me, mostly missing my body by 1/2 millimeter or less.

After the previous foster opted to extend to two week “break” to disappearing, I found myself with a long-term foster dog. I set about going to as many dog adoption events as I could take Toby to find him a proper home. Each was a disaster. He was so excited to be in those environments. He would tug, bark, whine and generally act like an enhanced version of the spirited freak he is. On only one occasion did he calm down. A woman walked toward us that must have looked similar to someone in his past because he instantly sat still and behaved in a very calm manner with only a slightly panting tongue and very big smile. I was certain she must be a long-lost owner. I was sure she was a perfect fit for him, something that could finally tame this savage beast. But she just looked (I was acting well-behaved too and maybe a bit puppy eyed) at both of us, made a face and could not get away from both of us fast enough. In my mind I thought she mouthed freak(s). We shared that rejection together which completed our bond. I was still determined to find his “real” home with someone who was home much more often than me and ideally had a child or ten to burn off some of his boundless energies.

Things did not get much better from there. I took him to an area of the park where dog owners hung out for bonding and socializing. Some dude with a giant dog started yelling – “get that Pit Bull away from here”. I looked around trying to find where the offending dog was and watched the dog in my custody running to the fray. When I retrieved Toby, I had a few choice words with this guy. This would not be the first time or the last time Toby was labeled a pit bull.

I then set Toby up with a perfect foster match. I was going to Europe for a couple of weeks and had a co-worker with acres of property and two playful dogs. I asked if Toby could stay with them while I was gone, and in the hour I stayed with them after Toby was dropped off I watched him run and play with his tongue hanging out non stop. He was in dog heaven and I pulled aways with a light heart and a smile on my face. When I returned stateside I called to check up on him (wanting to know when I should bring the rest of his things and seal the deal) and found out that while he was not a bother, he had “no personality” and I should probably come get him the next day. No personality! There are a lot of things this dog lacked: boundaries, obedience, any sense of pain, no limits to appetite, etc., but this dog was all personality.

Not long after, his previous foster asked for a week to have him back to try to “reconcile her mixed feelings” about keeping Toby. She seemed to like him and had another dog just like Toby but after a few days she asked if I could come back and get him because she was worried that he might have an expressed anal gland. WTF lady. This was also the foster whose boyfriend put a spiked collar on Toby and tried to turn him into a fighting dog. While he looks tough, the only thing this dog has ever been hardcore about is mooching. Bringing him home, I noticed no anal gland issues but I did some quick calculating and figured he was overdue for rabies and other vaccines and other needed check ups. The foster organization was out of money so I took him to a hospital that had treated him in the past. They had a few hand written records on him from one previous visit (he was neutered and had a minor surgery at the same time). The notes suggested him might be a Basenji and lab mix. Looking at the online information about that breed it seemed like a stretch but many years later when I found an audio file of a Basenji bark, I heard some similarity and found myself smirking. Toby has a very special, persistent, annoying bark that he uses when he is not getting something he wants, it was spot on to a Basenji.

At that point, doing some more calculation, I figured since I had this dog for over six months, his prospects were not looking good and mine were fading fast (the job I went to school for and wanted more than anything, was not going to happen). I was 2 points short on my immigration points paperwork to Australia and 5 points short for New Zealand. I called the foster person I could track down (they were beyond bankrupt) and told them I would consider my paid vet bill their adoption fees. Toby and I were finally legitimate.

Over time I realized we had a lot in common. We were both outcasts, misfits, misunderstood and always underestimated. Neither of use felt completely at ease as part of a pack or tribe. Toby and I were a pretty good fit.

Later on down the road, I decided to have his DNA tested to determine his true pedigree. When the vet called with the results, he was a bit embarrassed. He said the outcome we had did not happen often but Toby was inconclusive on every marker. He was sorry that I did not get a good return on my investment, but I was. Toby was a true Heinz 57 or by other words a bona fide Appalachian Porch Hound (Google that term and you will find most links lead to Tobias).

As time went on we had a good number of adventures, many of them road trips. Since I was gone from home for long periods of time, I often took him with me when I was out and about town. He loved to have his head out the window and when we got to our destination, he loved to run as fast as he could and as far as he could. Here are a few of our adventures as documented on this very blog.

Our two week road trip across America

The only dog in Columbus to have a beer named after him

Rockmill Brewery and a Dog Day Afternoon
(Note: while Matt and I were hiking, Toby in his bliss got too excited and tried to eat a small tree, while pulling it away from him, he scratched me and I have still a small scar on my hand to this day, that will always remind me our time there.

Important Research Work

If you dig through over twelve years of posts on this blog you will find a lot of mentions of Toby – often as a research assistant. For a dog that could not find a home, he certainly found many fans and even appeared in Columbus Monthly.

As a general rule I write about what I really, really like. He is like no other dog I have ever met. I would not describe him as a good dog, although he was not bad. I would never describe him as obedient but I rarely describe myself that way either. The most defining aspects to his “essence” for lack of a better term would be a profound spirit and a deep loyalty to me. I have always had low expectations for people and ultimately, if I look at my life to date, the thing I have prized (and wanted) the most in people and rarely found has been loyalty. I always had Toby’s loyalty, unless there was food to be stolen, but even I could respect that. If I get an ounce of loyalty I will give a pound back. When Toby and I were in West Virginia with my dad, on his last trip “to the hills” before heading to a new type of destruction in Honduras, we spent the night in a high-end cabin owned by a lifelong friend of my dad’s. We were surrounded by manly men. Toby was allowed in (although a “real dog” would have slept outside) but he had to stay in the kitchen. Come midnight when we all crawled into bed upstairs I started to hear the whimper on the kitchen. I knew who it was. It got louder and more frequent. I took a pillow and a sheet and slept next to that poor dog on the hard, cold tile floor until the good old boys found me there in the morning. And they watched the same dog then abandon me the second he heard a package of bacon open.

Toby played an important part in my life in many ways. Toby saved my life on one occasion, but that is a very, very long story with a lot of appendices, notations and more than a few theories so we will skip those details. Paying attention to how Toby felt about a few of my girlfriends could have saved me (and them) from misspent time. Toby was important in many more ways but the critical lesson was learning to share my space and having an opportunity to be accountable to someone other than myself. He gave me a lot when I gave him a home. The most important lessons I learned from my special needs dog were the skills I would need to help my special needs child as a human father.

I was glad that he was around to see me get married and to have some time with my son. I do wish CMH Griffin could have experienced CMH Tobias at his prime – they would have both been a true match for each other. I wish my boy could have fully experienced Toby as I did so he would have a template for a dog that would be a good fit for him or any boy with a curious disposition, thirst for adventure and general disdain of pack mentality. Toby lived long past his prime, probably out of loyalty to me. I did not want to wish for his death but I impatiently waited for it. Even when he was 14 1/2, he was still spry and vibrant and described by a vet as an “exceptional dog” (at least physically). He was and will always be, exceptional.

From November 2017 to today (I watched and hoped for him to decide it was time to go): his walks became shorter; he stopped running and/or showing interest in squirrels, (but could always rally for one good bark at a dog or cat); he slept in later. He lost more bits of his lifestyle. Starting in May 2018 he stopped trying to climb the steps and then he stopped trying to do a controlled fall down them. Then he stopped expecting to be carried upstairs to sleep. He stopped whimpering if he could not be in the same room as us….as me. He stopped ambling to the door when someone came home. Car rides were now a horror for him, not a treat. He lost the essentials to his life and our lives with him. His tail lost it’s spring like curl and whip like speed stopped wagging and shifted to a sag. However, he never stopped being a mooch. He lost most of what made him – Toby, but he only lost an ounce of his intense spirit and none of his loyalty.

As June began there were a few nights I was sure were his last. I stayed up as late as I could each night so he could go outside to pee or poop. As July, started to beckon, on a Friday afternoon his bladder started to fail and his hind legs increased their ineffective flailing. This could not go on, for either of us. He stopped wanting to walk farther than one pee and one sniff and even those were more out of habit than a need to mark territory. At this point he could linger on few weeks or maybe a month of existence or I could pick a day for his departure while a little bit of his essence was left and his spirit not completely broken. I decided we would put him down at home so he would not have to be stressed by a trip to the vet and have a hospital be his last sight and smell before passing. Also, I did not want him to bambi fall across the slick tile floor of the vet as his last act of living. As a family money is very tight for us right now but the cost of dying at home was worth it. All of the home vet services were busy and while our regular vet does not do home visits, they must have felt sorry for me (I did mention that we only live 150 yards away), so they said they could do it but the earliest they could schedule would be Monday (about 52 hours later). After we made arrangements I was not sure Toby would make it to Monday or not. He rallied strong on Sunday and was pampered to the extreme for his final 48 hours. I pulled out our old adventure sleeping bag and we tried to sleep on it the last two nights before his time to go. Maybe he knew what I knew but he did not show it. He even managed to not poop in the house during his last 24 hours. His final meals and snacks were filled with brisket, donuts, ice cream, pizza and meatballs. Waiting at the door to let in our vet in to end Toby’s life by my own choice made every second feel like a century. The only plus in the situation was being able to cry in the privacy of my own home away from any witnesses.

I miss my friend and he leaves a tear in my heart that will not be mended. He headed for Porch Hound Heaven at 1:44 pm, Monday June 25th.

R.I.P. Toby (Tobias J. Dog) March or May 2002 to June 25th, 2018


Porch Hound Post Script:

The dog socialization program continues at Chillicothe Correctional Institution where select inmate handlers work 1-on-1 with dogs and puppies to learn basic commands. The prison coordinates with DASH (Danielle’s Animal Safe Haven) a 100% volunteer based non-profit 501c3 rescue. If you want to make a Donation to Dash in honor of the most notorious of Appalachian Porchhounds here is the -> LINK.

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From the Archives for Fathers Day: Apple Cake Podcast

Posted by cmh gourmand on June 17, 2018

At Copan Mayan Ruins in Honduras 2009

Today marks my second year that I am the Father on Father’s Day. I never figured that is was going to be an easy assignment but I must say the last five months in the role have been a marathon. It is soul wrenching when your child has a challenge that you might not be able to help him with or know if what you are doing is helping or not.

However, I’m so happy for all of the time I get to spend with CMH Griffin. Spending time with him it makes Fathers Day a little easier to bear since my dad died on Father’s Day.

I have shared some of my dynamic with my father before: Apple Cake Eulogy and Senor Ellison esta aqui.

Recently, I found this audio episode from my short lived podcast, (the original) Columbus Foodcast. The sound quality is very good (although I must admit I started crying when I was testing out the audio file to make sure it was good quality). The amusing part for me and for anyone listening that may have known my Dad aka “Crash”, is how hard he is trying to be “good”. Throughout this recording I can hear him trying to restrain his language and more typical demeanor. You also get some sense of his “special” relationship with Tommy, from Tommy’s Diner in Fton.

This very special, “lost” episode of Columbus Foodcast lasts about 17 minutes.

Listen -> Here

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