CMH Gourmand

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

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Archives: BHM Gourmand

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 19, 2016


CMH in BHM, (Bham, AL Y’all from December, 2006)

I made my first visit to the South with one goal – to eat at Johnnie’s BBQ which my friend Andrea has been talking about for several years. Since she was expected to have a hangover after a holiday party – I would be driving Ms. Andrea to her hometown of Birmingham, Alabama and flying back. This also gave me a chance to take a peek at Nashville, TN. And, as a Kansas City BBQ Society Certified BBQ Judge – I would have a chance to expand my palate, knowledge base, and belly.

I am fairly positive a saw a roadkill Bigfoot or monkey on the way down – but I did not have time to confirm this – there was eating to be done.

It is nine hours from CMH to Birmingham. We paused in Nashville for a late lunch at Corky’s BBQ (Brentwood location). Decent BBQ but not epic – however since it is only 1 minute away from the interstate – well worth the effort.

Corky’s BBQ

A BBQ Primer –a good southern BBQ joint adheres to a few basics. You should expect: a small menu, paper towels on the table, and sliced white bread served as a napkin alternative / delivery device for BBQ. Also, there will be extra sauce on the table. Tea – sweet tea (lots of sugar) and unsweet – will be the beverage of choice and you will have the option of half and half (1/2 sweet and 1/2 unsweet, Y’All). And since this is the south – expect PORK.

Bread

Upon arrival in Birmingham – it was time to eat again. Pickings were limited on a Sunday night – but we ended up at Dreamland BBQ. This was a surprise. Dreamland has been renown for ribs for years – so having a shot at this spot was a bonus. This is a franchise – but still good, I am sure the original is even better.

Dreamland BBQ

Sampled were the ribs, fries, baked beans, and Banana pudding. The ribs were well-cooked, tender, and meaty with good flavor. The sauce had a good kick to it. The Banana Pudding – was perfect.

The next day – with a bow to southern hospitality and for the sake of a birthday we dined at a Thai Restaurant – Surin West. This was good Thai. I really liked the Coconut soup and the Chicken Noodle Bowl. This is in the Five Points section of Birmingham.

Dinner was at Niki’s West. The restaurant does have a menu offering steak and seafood in it – but people head to Niki’s for the Meat and Three buffet. There are 5-7 Southern style cooked meat items and about 40 various side dishes to choose from including macaroni and cheese, greens, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, etc. Just choosing three is a struggle. There are also desserts. The Pecan Pie was perfect! The crust was a masterpiece. I loved it.

Review of Niki’s

Sign at Niki's

Southern Foodways History of Bham dining – Niki’s

Day Two –

O’Carr’s Deli & Catering
2909 18th Street South (Homewood)
(205) 879-2196

Tuesday through Saturday from 10am to 4pm
(No credit cards)

O’Carrs

I had a crush on the (Homewood) O’Carr’s the second I walked in. The place is flowing with character. The prep area is overflowing with fresh fruits. This location has been around for 30 plus years – evidence of this can be found in some of the signed photos on the wall from the likes of 70’s rockers Boston, Ted Nugent and Foreigner. O’Carr’s has stood the test of time better than the people in the aforementioned photographs.

Fruit

The menu is impressive. O’Carr’s puts the ham in Birmingham. The sandwich selections are filled with top grade meats including Prosciutto, Westphalian, and other types of ham as well as kuemmelwurst, braunschweiger, genoa salami and kosher salami

The salads and starters include broccoli salad, hearts of palm with blue cheese dressing, nut bread with cream cheese, asparagus and turkey on field greens with mango vinaigrette, crabmeat with cream cheese dip, cheese plates, etc. There are several soups offered daily.

Did I mention that have a big crush on O’Carr’s. Looking through the menu – I was hard pressed to pick just one thing. Looking around the crowded room, I noticed that 90% of the diners were getting the Chicken Salad and Fruit Plate. I sampled this and found it to be perfect. A generous serving of chicken salad (with a few cut grapes mixed in) was served with a selection of various crackers and a wide variety of cut fresh fruits. This is a destination dish. In 2002, the Chicken Salad and Fruit plate was listed in Birmingham Magazine’s 101 Best Things To Eat. I can tell you – I think there are at least 50 more things at O’Carr’s that should have been on that list.

Chicken salad

Another must eat item at O’Carr’s is the cheesecake – thick and rich with real whipped cream on the top and a thin layer of fudge or fruit near the top. If the cheesecake is famous enough to be on a T-shirt – (for sale at the restaurant) – it is good enough for my belly.

Cheesecake

The slogan for O’Carr’s is Eat by Color – there are many colors to choose from and I hit the rainbow pretty hard in one trip. However, there are several other things I wanted to try – including – the milkshakes, seven layer bars, a couple sandwiches, and another serving of the chicken salad.

Cameron Carr and his wife June have been running the restaurant for about 30 years and are starting to franchise. I think they have a great operation – but if you go to an O’Carr’s, go to the Homewood location, and go early to beat the crowd – the original can not be beat.

Pete’s Famous Hot Dogs
Pete’s History

Holly Eats – Pete’s

I will let these web sites do the talking. If you go to Pete’s, appreciate the history of the place.

Tip Top Grill
588 Shades Crest Road
(205) 978-8677

This little stand offers a great view of the area since it sits on a cliff right by Lover’s Leap. I had a good slaw dog here.

Johnnys Bar B Q
1401 4th Street Southwest
Cullman, AL
(256) 734-8539

Johnny’s Bar B Q

Johnnys menu

Cullman is about 45 minutes north of Bham. In a state saturated with good BBQ and a city with several famous places, my hosts insisted that we head to Johnnies for the “best”. Johnnies is a good spot. It was ranked as one of the best of 2006 in National BBQ News – not an easy thing to do.

Sign at Johnny's

The standout here is the (Bulldog Slappin’ good) Bar-B-Q Potato. This is a giant baked potato filled with shredded cheese, sour cream and a big pile of shredded BBQ. Yum.

BBQ Potato

The Original Pancake House
Leaving town the next day, I went back to Five Points for a “Dutch Baby” at
The Original Pancake House. The Dutch Baby – is gigantic – kind of a fusion of a pancake and dumbo ear from a state fair – with lots of butter, powdered sugar, and lemon (if you choose) for good measure. This is a mini chain that started in Portland, Oregon. It was ranked as one of the best pancake houses by USA Today a few years back

I wish I would have had time for:

Another trip to O’Carr’s

Sneaky Pete’s (a small hot dog chain in Bham)

Garage Cafe
2304 Tenth Terrace South
(205) 322-3220
A hard to find bar / Café famous for offering create-your-own sandwiches. You pick the bread, meat, cheese and toppings.  Sounds good to me.

Golden Rule is a respected chain in the area. They have a mini location at the airport but I was too full to think about eating when I left Bham.

Golden Rule BBQ

OK – it was not all food – I did some other things including –

A nighttime trip to Vulcan Park for a view of the City
Vulcan Park

Vulcan

This is Vulcan’s Butt.

And I went to the Birmingham Civil Rights Museum (very good). I also had a look at the 16th Street Baptist Church across he street – site of a lot of civil rights history.

Civil Rights Museum

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Archives: Chicago

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 19, 2016

After Berkley, Chicago is my favorite food town. I always try to hit the Billy Goat Tavern. I thought it would be touristy, but it was everything I wanted it to be – authentic, fun, and good food. It was much more than a Saturday Night Live skit – it was a true taste of Chicago on a day when I needed to have a good meal (I had a double cheeseburger as my hobbit style second breakfast for the day).((Traveling Tip – there is a Billy Goat Tavern Outlet at O’Hare Airport, near Gate C 19, – the burger is almost as good and the Italian Beef is worth a bite.)) A meal that was runner up for best spot of the trip was an insider tip from my friend Josh, a Chicago transplant. We had a great lunch at Heaven on Seven, a diner with some cajun undertones, hidden on the seventh floor of an office building.


Another bonus for Chicago style hot dog lovers – there is a Superdawg at Midway airport!


Here is a Chicago food primer for Windy City greenhorns.

To begin – some information on Chicago pizza:

Food Timeline – Chicago Pizza


Wikipedia – Chicago Pizza

And now on to the Italian Beef –

Wikipedia – Italian Beef

Pat Bruno is the authority on Chicago Food – here his Beef overview –

Pat Bruno – Hemispheres Magazine June 2006

And Chicago Hot Dogs

Wikipedia – Chicago Style Hot Dog

Some of the Windy City’s best Dawgs – (I vote for Byron’s and Clark Street Dog)


In 2005, I was researching the fabulous Italian Beef Sandwich in the Windy City – this is what I learned.

Chicago is a food lover’s town featuring three homegrown culinary inventions – Deep Dish Pizza, Chicago Style Hot Dogs and the Italian Beef Sandwich (the third and least traveled of the triumvirate). Few people have heard of this Chicago cultural icon outside of the Windy City metro area, – but once you get a big, wet, messy bite of this sandwich – you’re hooked.The history of the sandwich is about as clear as the juice the beef swims in. You won’t find this sandwich in Italy; most people agree the sandwich evolved in the Italian neighborhoods of Chicago in the 1930’s. A place called Al’s on Taylor Street has been around since 1938. Other local lore implies the origin of Italian Beef at a place called Maxwell’s.

The popular sandwich rapidly populated Chicago’s neighborhoods with beef stands in the late 1940’s. Today the signature sandwich is served up at hundreds of places from old mom and pop stands to new fangled franchises.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fifth decision – “ya want fries with that?”

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

Many of the places get their beef from Scala Beef – which has a great reputation in town. Most of the rolls are from Gonnella Baking Company or Turano Baking Company – also highly regarded bakers. It is not uncommon to see giardiniera served out of a large glass jar from one of several local purveyors. Considering all these commonalities it might seem that all Beefs are created and served equal – such is not the case. True Italian Beef fans will scrutinize every detail such as how the sirloin is cut – too thin or too thick and how each place cuts and handles their beef. Seasoning in the juice and quality of toppings are critical too and always noticed by anyone that has been to more than a couple beef stands. Even small touches such as how the rolls are stored and whether or not the Giardiniera is self serve can be crucial factors.

If you have a large group in tow and you need more seating and variety than the typical beef stand has to offer keep an eye out for these two chains – Portillos and Buona Beef. Both places serve a good beef and offer other Chicago style treats as well as catering. Mr. Beef is a famous place inside the Chicago Loop. It is just across the street from the Scala Beef plant downtown and has been a celebrity favorite for decades – the wall across from the counter is plastered with glossies of actors and local notables.

My Chicago beef guide – who I will call Mac the Knife to protect his identify– said this after visiting one well-known place – “they say you can’t screw up an Italian Beef – well you can and _______ did!!” The better beefs are often off the beaten path. To make sure your first experience is a good one – here is a sample of places that consistently do everything right.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Duke’s Drive In
8115 S Harlem Ave
Oak Lawn, IL
708 599-0576
http://www.dukesitalianbeef.com/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14279 Wolf Rd.
Orland Park, IL 60467-1932
708-403-9070
10337 S. Kedzie Ave.,
Chicago, IL
773 239-1243


18328 Governors Highway
Homewood, IL
708 647-9999

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


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

Al’s #1 Italian Beef
www.alsbeef.com
13 locations
Most convenient location:
169 West. Ontario
(312) 943-3222
The Franchise started in 2001. But the Ontario Al’s does have common ancestry with the Taylor St. Al’s.The Ontario location is within a baseball toss of Ed Debevic’s, Carson’s Ribs, Gino’s East Pizza and a Portillos – so you can cover all of your Chicago food needs on foot. You can take the Brown Line to Chicago or Merchandise Mart.

Al’s #1 Italian Beef
http://www.alscatering.com/index.htm
1079 West Taylor St
(312) 226-4017
Born in 1938.
As an added bonus, Mario’s Italian Ice shop, which is among the best in Chicago, is across the street. This Al’s has been listed in nearly every article written about Italian Beef. Little Italy is a great neighborhood for food lovers to stroll around.
Subway access on the Blue Line to UIC-Halsted, and then a bit of a walk.

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Ohio Donut Trail: Family Donut Shoppe

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 15, 2016

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There is one objective truth on the Ohio Donut Trail, just when you think you have everything covered (south of 70) a new spot appears unexpectedly. This one was scouted via social media. A key observation by the social media poster – a 24 hour donut shop!, caught my eye. As did the location, Londonderry, Ohio. I have traveled nearly all of Ohio but it turns out Londonderry is on a section of S.R. 50 I had never traversed. Doing some research, this spot is about 15 minutes east (ish) of Chillicothe. Doing more research, it seems than Londonderry is only about 50 minutes from Athens, which of course means O’Betty’s so in my odd travel logic – how about a day devoted to donuts and hot dogs. This oddly shaped travel triangle makes for a spiffy afternoon drive. It turned out to be a pretty good day for donuting to boot.

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Regular devotees to the Ohio Donut trail (not to be confused with another Ohio Donut trail which is newer and just covers a small portion of the state and might be construed as an upstart donut trail) will be pleased to know that Family Donut shop is easily in the top 6 best Ohio Donuteries encountered to date.

I knew pulling into the lot that I would love the place. It looked wholesome. The counter staff were friendly and the offerings were extensive. In addition to donuts (mostly of the cake variety but fritters, Long John’s and fancy donuts too) the place serves good coffee, hot dogs, a smoked sausage sandwich, ice cream, milkshakes and a few other things. There is a counter with a few stools and a scattering of tables as well as a 24 hour drive through window. This ensures that if one needs to rest from the drive there are ample options for sustenance and support.

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A dozen plus donuts of all varieties were purchased and sampled over the next nine hours. The apple fritter was exceptional. The stick donut was the best I have ever consumed anywhere. The other donuts were all fresh, of good quality, light, fluffy and satisfying. After returning home and taking some donuts with him, my tasting associate texted me within minutes “The plain cake donut may be the best I have ever had!”

Additional trips will be made to Family Donut Shop to continue this important research. On the way to Athens I discovered McArthur Ohio which also warrants more investigation so the two Route 50 towns may be linked together in a future post.

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Stay tuned for the continuing adventures on the original and best Ohio Donut Tail.

Family Donut Shop
35633 US-50, Londonderry, OH 45647
(740) 887-2120

Posted in donuts, ice cream, Ohio, Ohio Donut Trail, Road Trip | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Burger King’s 5 for $4 vs. Wendy’s 4 for $4

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 4, 2016

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Two back to back fast food posts? Speculation may arise that I have bottomed out. I hope not, both are in the spirit of investigative food journalism. I’ve noticed Wendy’s and Burger King plugging $4 meals for months and both are near my headquarters so I decided to pick up both within minutes of each other to do some side by side analysis. Thanks to those hard fact driven folks at Fox News, I seem to have stumbled onto a -> fast food war with a little smack talk on the side. The King decreed “5 for $4, because 5 is better than 4”. But is that really the case? I decided to challenge the two head on using qualitative and quantitative research. This post was spur of the moment but perhaps fated since it was conducted on April (Four), 4th.

Let us open the sacks and see what we find.

The Burger King deal includes: a bacon cheeseburger, crispy chicken nuggets (4), small fries, small drink and a chocolate chip cookie

The Wendy’s deal includes: the choice of Junior Bacon Cheeseburger or Crispy Chicken Sandwich, a small beverage, value natural cut fries and 4 piece chicken nuggets.

First let’s look at the actual retail price. At Burger King, the price is $4.06 whereas at Wendy’s the total comes to $4.08. Score one for the King. (The differences seems to be how each empire calculates Ohio sales tax for the beverage that comes with the deal. What an odd anomaly).

Second we compare beverages. Both are the same size so that is a draw.

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For the third area of analysis, I opted to go head to head with the bacon cheese burgers. Wendy’s version offers a slice of tomato and a large piece of lettuce whereas Burger King piles on the pickles. Both add two strips of bacon and a slice of American cheese. The hamburger paddies are about the same size. The BK burger tasted better than it’s counterpart from Wendy’s and the bacon flavor was stronger. (Side note: while Wendy’s did not have a pickle on this burger, they typically do feature them on value items, Burger King uses better pickles and my BK test subject had 5 – that did not influence my choice but it is noteworthy). Two points for the King.

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Moving along to the third shared menu item and our fourth comparison point: chicken nuggets which generally are among the most terrifying of fast food items in my opinion. Wendy’s chicken nuggets were vastly superior to their royal cousins. The Wendy’s offering were thicker, fluffier and had some taste of chicken to them. The Burger King Nuggets were….crunchy. Score one for the girl in pin stripes.

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Our next head to head in the competition is fries. My serving from Burger King was almost twice as much as Wendy’s. Wendy’s fries had better potato flavor. Burger King’s fries had better texture and crispness. I’m giving a slight edge to the King for this one more so due to quantity than quality. The King: 3, The Kid: 1.

Burger King offers a chocolate chip cookie as their fifth item, Wendy’s does not, so it is now 4 to 1 in favor of the King.

Looking at some subjective items. At the Wendy’s I visited Coca-Cola Free style is offered so I had more beverage choices and I had the option of either a burger or chicken sandwich. Both companies offer a choice of dipping sauces with the nuggets and neither include ketchup unless you ask for it. Wendy’s slightly greater variety has merit but not enough to earn a point so the score remains unchanged.

Let’s look, for the sake of value at some nutritional facts about the meals. The Burger King 5 for $4 has (not including the beverage and cookie): 820 calories, 26 grams of protein, 39 grams of fat. Wendy’s combo (just the burger, nuggets and fries): 790 calories, 32 grams of protein and 45 grams of fat. I’d like to see how the difference would be if the servings of fries were really the same but on paper a few more calories and a little less fat is probably marginally better for health and if you are living on the cheap – that’s more fuel to sustain a person. We will call nutrition a draw but objectively, both fail. Adding in a non diet beverage for both you go well over 1000 calories and toss in the cookie close to 1200. If you hit hard times and only have $4 to eat – the BK deal may be a sustainer.

I thought this contest would have been a closer call. Since I go to Wendy’s more than Burger King (and I go to both very rarely) I thought Wendy’s was going to do a better job on the the three core items. The King is the King of value meals here. Note: I’ve had my share of fast food chicken nuggets for the rest of this decade (4.5 of the 8 were consumed by me to taste them with and without the dipping sauces).

This study was supervised by CMH Griffin (who had yogurt). My research assistant CMH Tobias was quite happy to dispose of the leftovers.

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If there is another head to head study I should have my research team investigate, let me know.

Posted in culinary knowledge, culinary misadventure, Food For Thought, Gastronomic Stimulus | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Small Bite: Wendy’s Black Bean Burger; Big Picture Why Fast Food needs a Veggie Burger and why they aren’t working

Posted by cmh gourmand on March 14, 2016

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Ok, well one of many things you may not know about me, I have a strong internal calling to try out new veggie burgers at fast food places, especially when created by locally owned White Castle and Wendy’s. In my past, I had the fortune to do product sampling for both companies and tried a few veggie burgers at each over the years. (Please note previous White Castle Veggie Burger research -> HERE

So let us now cut to the chase. The new Black Bean Burger at Wendy’s looks and tastes like a Morningstar Farm Black Bean Burger I have tried many times. It includes some bean chunks and a few pieces of corn mixed in for variety. The price was $4.49. It rests on a very nice looking bun and is complimented by some fancy pepper jack cheese with some fluffy and pseudo artisan greens that had the taste and consistency of paper. Visually everything looked good. The flavor profile would best be described as bland and mostly flavorless – a good source of fiber and that is the best positive I can comment on. As served it is 560 calories and 24 fat grams. A Wendy’s single with Cheese is 550 calories and costs less.

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Now that the review is done, we can discuss the socioeconomic and philosophical points about fast food veggie burgers. I’ll add some additional background. I’m not here to attack veggies burgers. I lived off them multiple times per week throughout the first decade of this century. I used to drive to the Morningstar outlet store in Worthington to save a few dollars on patties and see what new products where out there. I had a great fast food veggie burger at an Australian Hungry Jacks (Burger King) in Melbourne in 1989. I have tried them throughout the USA and the world, mostly out of curiosity. I believe in the teachings of Michael Pollan and others (although I certainly do not practice those beliefs in this second decade of the century) that we are better off as individuals and as a society if we “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Our health and planet improves when we do so. I get it.

The key to making a fast food veggie burger work is to do what White Castle did to make the first fast food burgers work in the 1920’s – make them cheap and sell them by the sack. An expensive, fancy veggie burger does not drive consumption the way a dollar menu burger would or should. Anyone that is not a veggie person is not going to pay that price point for something they do not want. Someone that does want a veggie burger is going to pay three times as much at Northstar but get a better product with better nutrition. Give it a fast food veggie burger a basic bun, a slice of cheese and a nice pickle, plop it on the value menu then give it a generation to sink it and it will work by altering the eating habits of consumers with the balance of price and convenience. Make it (and price it) for the masses so the masses will eat it – better for business and maybe better for body mass. While this may seem far-fetched, it is good business sense. In India – where few eat beef, Burger King has been progressive and aggressive in launching a vegetarian line of sandwiches that are doing well – I’d love to try any of them here. In that subcontinent – Wendy’s offers a potato patty which by description and with a bit of research sounds better than their black bean offering here.

Posted in culinary knowledge, culinary misadventure, Food For Thought, Gastronomic Stimulus, Vegetarian Friendly | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Buffet Battle: Pizza

Posted by cmh gourmand on February 27, 2016

pizza buffet

The Buffet Battle Series begins with Pizza. Each Buffet is available Monday to Friday 11 am to 2 pm.

Three buffets were tested rigorously and these are the results. Ratings are on a 5 point scale. Since Pizza is the primary food at each spot, it gets an added criteria for this installment of the series.

Ange’s Pizza
Beechwold Center
4511 N High St
614 784-9000

Ange’s has a long history in Columbus dating back to 1953 and it might surprise readers in that there are 8 locations. I’m not sure if all locations offer a buffet or if there are differences in buffets at the different sites. If there are let me know.

The buffet here is fairly barebones – one or two pizzas, a cut up stromboli and a small metal bowl with a salad mix and packets of salad dressing on the side. Staff interaction is minimal. The eating area is small and cafeteria like with minimal seating and devoid of any atmosphere or character. The buffet also includes a beverage via styrofoam cup. The sign says the buffet is $7.49 after tax the total price is $8.03.


Value 3.75
Quality 3.75
Quantity 3.5
Pizza Grade 4
Kid friendly Quotient 2.75


This location is hard to find buried behind a Panera in a strip mall that is hard to enter and exit. This seems to effect the number of people who try the buffet and thus may effect the volume of items offered and subdue any staff excitement about the buffet.

Massey’s Pizza
BEECHCROFT/RT. 161
1951 E. Dublin-Granville Rd.
614 888-0022

Massey’s is also a long time player in Columbus pizza, the original owners were among a small group of early pizza pioneers in Columbus. Massey’s grew into a large empire which collapsed and has been rebuilding in the last decade. I was surprised to see there are eleven local locations as well as one in South Carolina. This is one of the oldest Massey’s locations and is smaller and more austere than most of the new sites.

This buffet included a variety of pizzas, a pasta dish (spaghetti), a mixed salad, a pasta salad, small slices of subs all served via styrofoam plate with a beverage in a styrofoam cup for 7.99. Here you pay first when entering and then eat away. Although the site is busy with carry out orders the staff do make an effort to keep the food stations filled.

The eating area is low on ambiance with several small beat up tables and chairs. It is also noisy from a TV and the acoustics of an old building. My favorite items were the small sections of bite size cut subs, perfectly cooked with great flavor, I went back more often for these than the pizza.


Value 4.25
Quality 4.25
Quantity 4.5
Pizza Grade 4.5
Kid friendly Quotient 2.5


Iacono’s Pizza and Restaurant
4452 Kenny Rd Columbus
614 451-0234

While Massey’s tag line is the Cadillac of pizzas, Iacono’s has earned that moniker for their buffet. Two years ago it was $8.75, until 6 weeks ago it was $9.75 now that we are firmly in 2016 it is now $10.75. That price may scare off some but the value is hard to beat. The buffet features a full salad bar including a variety of house made dressings, cottage cheese, pudding, macaroni salad, potato salad and bacon bits, home made soup, two to three full pizzas which are typically served in half styles so a total of 6 varieties are usually available. The staff often ask what type of pizza you like and typically you will see that as a new selection while you are eating. A dessert pizza (a mix of apples and cinnamon). A beverage is included and staff are aggressive in making sure your cup is not half empty. The space is large with many tables and some half booth / table seating along one wall. There are several high chairs available and if you need to find a place far from the madding crowd, you can find it. The in house music is not overly loud and is typically features the best of the 1970’s.


Value 4
Quality 4.75
Quantity 5
Pizza Grade 4.75
Kid friendly Quotient 5


While this buffet is the most expensive, you definitely get what you pay for and this the whole is as great as the sum of the parts….and the pizza.

And thus ends the first Buffet Battle.

Posted in Best Pizza in Columbus, Buffet Battle, pizza | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Buffet Battle: The Series

Posted by cmh gourmand on February 14, 2016

buffet 2

It is easy to malign and maybe have some true contempt for the concept of the buffet. The buffet is a symbol of American excess and gluttony. Often it is a guarantee for both poor quality food and ingredients. It is easy to see a buffet sign and keep on driving by.

However for the right food with the right attitude a buffet can easily exceed expectations while offering good food and value. The best example of a great buffet (which is long gone) is the Lost Planet Pizza and Pasta lunch buffet (circa 2000), most weekdays one could walk in for all you could eat pastas and pizzas (at least three of each). The food was fresh and I was more than happy to flex my work schedule so I could enjoy it at least once a month. A place (still open) that really does a great job with the buffet concept is the Mon Ami Restaurant and Winery in Port Clinton Ohio. People are known to drive hours for the experience. I’ve tried it and thought is was a steal for the price – especially for fresh seafood and meat dishes. So we know it can be done well.

The concept of a buffet is not that far removed from Chipotle, Piada, Fusian and etc., which are essentially assembling food to order. What many people don’t recognize is often the concept of buffet at many restaurants is only a matter of where you food is served – in front of you or in the same containers behind the doors of the kitchen. In the case of Ethic foods, a buffet can be a wonderful first contact with a new culture in a setting that allows a variety of foods to assist with the beginning of a culinary journey.

An additional bonus that buffets offer, they can be child care friendly. Now with the addition of CMH Griffin to may days I am often looking for a place where I can take a car seat filled with an energetic baby boy and sit down for a decent lunch that is fast, filling and not expensive but also situated so I have a good spot for him and I can make a quick exit if he has a melt down.

Hence the Buffet Battle Series. I have been scouting Columbus for six months trying to find places that might be series worthy and now that I have a critical mass of material, let the series begin!

These are the criteria, ranked on a 5 point scale.

Quantity
Quality
Value
Ambiance / Amenities
Kid Friendly Quotient

Having surveyed the offerings of our fair city the first three battles will be: Pizza, Indian and Chinese food. The Pizza Buffet Battle post is coming soon. If you have contestants for Indian, Chinese or another buffet category, let me know.

Posted in Buffet Battle, culinary misadventure | Tagged: | 8 Comments »

Two New(er) Food Trucks to fight the Winter Blahs

Posted by cmh gourmand on January 20, 2016

Are you starting to feel a little cabin fever? Or in need a change of pace, space or flavor but can’t afford the airfare? Well these two newer food trucks my fix what is ailing you.

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Facebook:alohastreatery
Twitter:alohastreatery
Phone: (614) 943-3523

Aloha Streatery hit the streets of Columbus in the fall of 2015 bringing some welcome menu diversity to the mobile food scene. What many do not know is Hawaii was a mecca for food trucks before most of the mainland showcasing diverse menus in the islands of Aloha for decades. Aloha Streatery brings authentic flavors via a menu that hits the spot that is refreshingly simple and with price points that are refreshing.

Owner Sara Siv leads with a menu that is slider based and features the full on flavors of Hawaiian Street Food. The clam like home-made lotus buns (light, fluffy but a very firm base to pile on toppings) have just a trace of sweetness to them. Typical toppings include Hawaiian mainstays such as BBQ Chicken, grilled pineapple, Spam(!), pork belly or homemade tofu. (FYI: Hawaii is the largest per capita consumer of Spam in the world). Depending on the sandwich pour or pile on house made peanut sauce, sriracha mayo, house make pickled veggies, and add in an optional fried egg and you might you feel yourself transported to Maui.

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Other menu items include a spin on a Hawaiian icon Loco (No) Moco – sweet chicken with steamed jasmine rice, grilled pineapple, cilantro mayo and a dash of freshly chopped cilantro. Tater Tots and Fries with an island twist round out the main menu. Specials are well worth your time and attention as well examples include wraps and Banh Mi.

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Two things I really like about Aloha which shows this newcomer is savvy enough to go the distance. First price points – many menu items are under $4 which is appealing to first time visitors and regulars who want to explore the menu in-depth. The second inspired decision is having a menu ordering system that allows customers to text in their order without having to lose their seat or brave the elements.

Aloha.

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Facebook:HornOKPlsFood
Twitter:hornokplsfood
(614) 446 4613

I have been waiting for mobile Indian food for a long time. Horn OK Please made a debut in the fall of 2015 and five visits to date they have never disappointed me. The menu focuses mostly on traditional Indian dishes but with a very practical twist. Most items offer a small (on a stick or in a boat) or large portion so those new to Indian food or mobile food or both can dip their ties in ethnic food waters with small monetary risk or create their own mini buffet by ordering several small portions. My favorite dish to date is Reshmi Chicken in wrap form: chicken marinated in almonds, ginger, garlic and cilantro chutney with some pickled onions on the side and of course the optional fried eggs
added.

Food

One fusion food that is a crowd pleaser is the Horn OK spin on Tater Tots:topped with chickpeas, tamarind, yogurt sauce and cilantro chutney!

You might be wondering about the name – well and explanation is included in the truck decor – see below.

Horn Ok Please

And the owners always have a book out for display which showcases many of the classic and colorful rigs of the Indian Highway (so you know what is up with the Horn and the color scheme).

Book

The menu is small but has enough depth not to get bored and you can usually count of a special of the day. Another interesting connection, the owners received some help in their build out from Johnny Oak – a long time Columbus BBQ purveyor and occasional mobile fooder.

Keep an eye out for Horn OK Please at local breweries and the usual lunch spots.

menu

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

Hounddogs Hallowed Delivery Icon(s)

Posted by cmh gourmand on January 18, 2016

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4 cars, 3 rockets and 2 dogs make one Iconic Columbus Car
(The story of Houndogs delivery machine)

Chances are even if you have never tried Hounddogs Pizza, you have wondered about the iconic car that delivers “pizza for the people”. In the beginning, or 1997 in this case, this dog star was born as non-traditional marketing. The inspiration came late one night. Owner Jeff Stewart had a vision of a Hounddog strapped to a rocket that he could mount to a classic car he recently acquired. Stewart started the project the next morning.

The original dog was make by a local artist, Mike Foley. Stewart called CCAD to find a sculptor and was eventually referred to a former student. When asked about his credentials, Foley replied “come over to my house on Indianola to see my work.” Stewart found a house filled with sculptures of all sizes and shapes and knew he found the right person to craft his canine.

The first night out was quite memorable, the rocket was sheared off of the dog when it caught on a low hanging parking garage roof. Since then, things have really taken off for the car and the pizza joint.

There have been three rockets over the years. The second was remounted on the original Hounddog and then attached (in order) to: 1971 Cadillac Coupe de Ville (1997 to 2001), 1988 VW Golf (2002-2003), 1985 Cadillac Fleetwood Broughham Limo (2003 – 2013). After a hiatus, a new dog with a new rocket was mounted on a 1962 Cadillac Fleetwood in the summer of 2015. The “new” car is red like the original with diamondback plate mounted on the roof as a base for a hallowed hounddog creating an unforgettable delivery vehicle.

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Bonus stuff below:

It Takes a Village to Craft a Car

Jeff Stewart is not one to toot his own turn, for anything Hounddogs, he is quick to state all accomplishments are a team effort. His team for the mobile delivery service encompasses twenty years of hands on experience. One of his drivers has over a decade of service under his belt. Andy, at Campus Auto has served has ER and surgeon to keep Hounddogs classic cars clunking along since the original rolled onto his lot nearly a of score years ago.

Quick Facts
The first rocket took 15 hours to fabricate. The second took off in just a few hours.

Stewart had a basset hound in college, which was part of the inspiration for the logo and car art, but because of the long hours he put in for the pizza shop, he had to give him up to a friend.

All cars except the Golf have been called into service to run family and friends to the airport, creating a memorable start to many vacations.

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Posted in culinary knowledge, Food For Thought, pizza | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

El Ranchito and My Southside Adventure

Posted by cmh gourmand on November 26, 2015

A friend of mine started raving about a Mexican Restaurant over the past summer. Since the world of Taco Trucks and authentic Mexican cuisine are in my domain and because I sustained a 7 month internment in Grove City he assumed I was aware of all south side establishments of this ilk. The more he talked about it throughout the summer the more I became intrigued. The downside, this friend does not pay much attention to restaurant details (well let me be honest, most people do not to the level I do – because they are, well, normal) so he had no name and a vague sense of location. Fortunately, I have experience going off on adventures with little to no information and perhaps the possibility of danger such was the case for my south side adventure.

If the south side was to have a mascot, it would the character Pig Pen from Peanuts. No matter where you go – there seems to be a little cloud of dust floating around nearby. The area is a little rough around the edges but in my eye that only adds character. However, neither aspect of the area helps when wandering around looking for a Mexican Restaurant. But my persistence paid off eventually and near the intersection of Brown Road and Hopkins Avenue I found El Ranchito.

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The small lot was full and the place had rustic look that usually is a sign of potential good food but while swinging around the rear to look for a parking space I found a surefire sign that this place would be at least well above average……a little bit of culinary history.

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It seems the original Taco Nazo food truck has been in storage here for over a year and the owners know Quicho, the owner very well. While they have no plans of running a food truck, they do offer a taco truck style menu and do quite well with it.

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The kitchen is small, not much bigger than a food truck and the menu is the same size. This spot just does the basics but they do them well. If you are looking for a taco truck experience but you want to sit at a table to wait and dine this is the place you have been looking for.

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So, that was not much of an adventure, just a lot of driving, however if you are going to head to the south side you might as well make a day of it, so I should note that just next door to El Ranchito is D & E Z O’s Pizza. This place gets high marks from many in the area and when I used to offer the Pizza Grand Prix we could always plan on someone making the trek to Old North Columbus to share D & E Z O’s with the masses. So I’s suggest ordering a pizza while you eat a taco then taking the pizza home for later.

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But wait there is more. I drove by a sketchy bar call Bullshotz. I had a compulsion to check the place out. Good sense would have caused me to drive on but something in my DNA fueled by more than a few missions to locate my father in bars like this, drove me back to the parking lot to check this place out. Parking in the lot, I found a nice watch lying in the mud, which gave me an excuse to walk in….and have the ability to walk right out….so I proceeded in spite of a bit of fear. Please note, if you go to Bullshotz there is a one foot drop from the door to the floor. My guess is this is a cheap security system or litmus test however I have good balance and no one was looking as I nearlt toppled to the floor so I still had the chance to mix in the with crowd. It took about ten seconds to determine that I could never blend in at a spot like this. I did turn the watch into the bartender who looked like a fairly attractive professional ultimate fighter just starting retirement. I also discovered that the place features a regular lunch and dinner menu, that looked OK. Now you are prepared for your own South side adventure. Good luck!

Posted in culinary misadventure, restaurants | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

 
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