CMH Gourmand – Eating in Columbus & Ohio

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Posts Tagged ‘Galaxy Cafe’

First Bite: Jerry’s Galaxy Cafe

Posted by cmh gourmand on November 30, 2013


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Long time readers know about my fond memories of the Galaxy Cafe which closed years ago. Starliner Diner and The Explorer’s Club have Galaxy connections in their kitchen DNA. So when I heard that Jerry Burgos, co-founder of the original Galaxy Cafe and long time driving force at the Starliner Diner, was opening a new place I was curious to see how this new restaurant would compare to my memories. Jerry sold his share in Starliner about 4 years ago but wanted to come back into the business of owning a restaurant and running a kitchen.

This new incantation in the Galaxy Universe opened in mid-November. Long time fans will find the elements they associate with the name. The fare will be comforting to Starliner and Explorer’s Club fans. Most of the dishes are southwestern / Cuban themed eclectic classics. The decor is a hodgepodge of folk art, flea market and cool cookie jars mixed with bright walls and black and white checkered ceiling tiles.

Jerry has teamed up with his wife Jenny and a small staff to add the Galaxy to the dining choices of Hilliard. This is good news for people like me who feel that there are only a few good dining choices west of the Scioto (Olive Tree and Starliner Diner for me). However Jerry has some challenges to face with this new location so old-time fans that have been thinking about dropping in could give this new business a great holiday gift by dropping in before Christmas. Challenge number one is location. Jerry’s Galaxy is buried in a semi-residential area off the beaten path in Hilliard. It does not have a sign (look for City Kids Daycare to know you are close). It is near a bar names Nasty’s (really) ((Really??)) and the Lil’ Donut Factory (which often runs out of donuts). Challenge number two – the menu at the Galaxy is about the same as the Starliner and Louie’s (a Starliner spin-off) so they are competing against two mirroring concepts that are both less than one mile away.

As a new business that has only been open a few weeks there are a few glitches to tweak. Service was a bit spotty on my visit. The volume of the music is too loud, especially when the spaces are quiet. The menu is familiar but could use more detailed descriptions of some dishes. And the coffee cups are too small and too thin to offer an optimal coffee experience one expects at a diner.

All food sampled was good and worthy of the Galaxy name I just hope that Jerry will get the business needed in the early months to have a full opportunity show what he can do in the back of the house.

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Jerry’s Galaxy Cafe
4920 Scioto-Darby Road
Hilliard
614-319-4035

Jerry's Galaxy Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Posted in CLOSED, Diners, restaurants | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Explorers Club: My First Expeditions

Posted by cmh gourmand on October 23, 2011

I am pleased. I am happy. Darn it, I might even use the word ecstatic! I have waited ten years and two months for this sign.

So what is the big deal? The Explorer’s Club is open. Yes, it is a restaurant. Ricky Barnes is cooking in the kitchen and Tracy Studer is guiding the front of the house. If you don’t recognize these names then you probably did not dine out in Columbus from the early 1990’s to 2001 (The Galaxy Cafe, Lost Planet Pizza and Pasta, Ricky’s Galaxy). Ricky and Tracy describe the Explorer’s Club as the Galaxy grown up. A few of the dishes and all of the flavors of Galaxies past are on the menu. The menu, decor and focus on service reflect changes in Tracy, Ricky and the rest of us during the last decade.

So a blast from the past has returned. Many eaters from the Columbus dining scene of old have fond memories of Ricky’s culinary accomplishments. Another element adding to the bigness of the deal is the location. I have discussed growing downtown dining and why this is important to the city. A good restaurant can be a foundation or launching point for a community (for example Yellow Brick Pizza and Angry Baker in Olde Town East). The Explorer’s Club is located on South High in Merion Village. The plucky neighborhood has limited eating options within their community, so a successful restaurant with good food can be a vibrant asset to the area. A past effort in the space, Coyote Jane’s, was a horrible disappointment (Did I just write something negative? Yes, and readers know I never do that. I will say the food, service and, well, everything was memorable, but not because it was good).

So with all of this good karma swelling up I must admit I had some trepidation. This was like revisiting an old flame. Are things ever as good as we remember them? I changed, they changed. Was the awesomeness of the Galaxy just a fond memory I had built up over the years. What if I did not like it? More importantly, what if you don’t like it. I don’t know if I can deal with the Galaxy imploding again the Explorer’s Club closing it’s doors.

I visited during a dry run night and ate for free. I went the next two days for brunch and was happy to pay for meals just as good at a good value. The verdict: YES! wonderful, near perfect, exciting, tasty. The menu may have an aspect of nostalgia but the flavor is there and a explorers spirit of pushing the limits. Considering the Explorer’s Club was open just to test drive the menu, train new servers and cooks and for experimenting with a few ideas, the end result was spectacular. I typically don’t try out a new restaurant for at least a month after opening so they can work out any kinks and I can walk through the door with reasonable expectations. On paper the Explorer’s Club should not have had much of a chance to blow me away based on my fervent loyalty of the past. I am looking forward to what the Explorer’s Club can do with a more seasoned staff and a few weeks of menu enhancements. Changes are already in the works. A bar menu is in the process of development as well as a limited selection of cocktails.

The food and the music is impressively sourced locally when possible. Here is a list of some of the local purveyors used:

Used Kids Records (the genres of music mix well with the menu)
Growers First / Crimson Cup (Coffee and Tea)
Shagbark Seed and Mill Company (from my food first favorite Athens, Ohio)
Gerber cage free, organic vegetarian fed chicken
OSU Agricultural egg hormone and antibiotic free pork
Stutzman Farms (grains/flour)

Not local, but definitely reflective of the restaurant, is where the artwork is sourced from. Most of the prints are by Jeb Loy Nichols, Wales UK.

Nichol’s portraits of famous or infamous names you may have heard include: John Coltrane, Amelia Earhart, Hank Aaron, Wendell Berry, Miles Davis, Nina Simone, Harvey Milk and Woody Gutherie. All were pioneers in their fields and times. The tagline of the Explorers Club is Simple – Pioneering – Flavor. The Galaxy was a pioneer in Columbus dining in the day and today, Explorers Club has taken that spirit and refined it. Staking a claim in Merion Village could be pioneering as well, I hope others will follow to add to the spice of this neighborhood.


So after all of this historical and philosophic foreplay, it is time to focus on the food.

Dinner was my first experience (note a few menu items may change of get tweaked by the time you travel to the Explorer’s Club. The item I hoped to see the most was black bean hummus. It is on the menu and is now served with garlic citrus pizza bread (looks and tastes like the best pita bread I have ever had). The hummus is great. I do miss the giant pool of garlic sauce that topped the 1993 – 2001 version but since that causes significant “personal space” issues for me, I figure it was omitted for the safety of the general public.

I also ordered the chicken quesadilla with charred salsa and sour cream. The salsa packed some significant heat but paired with the cool sour cream accentuated the flavors of everything on the plate.

The winner of the dinner entrees selected was the beef brisket (with black beans, redskin potatoes and jalapeno slaw). The brisket fell apart with very light pressure from my fork. It has a complimentary mix of flavors in the broth to spice things up. My dining companion is not a fan of the jalapeno but she found the proportion of pepper to slaw to be perfect balance of heat and cool.

For dessert there was only one choice I could allow, another blast from my past, Mrs. Barnes Pumpkin Dessert (I recalled this being called Surpise). Oh, yes. This is no pumpkin pie. It is served with cream and fresh berries. It might best be described as a fusion of cake, pie and cheesecake. It is good, that is all that matters.

I woke up the following day and got some of the old gang together to go back from brunch (after college a group of six to ten of us were there almost every Saturday for one or two meals). Longtime readers know I have little interest in breakfast with very few exceptions, Explorers Club is on the short list. I liked my group meal so much I went back the next day solo to sample the only item I did not try the day before.

Another menu item I was passionately, desperately, pathetically hoping for was museli. This simple dish was the hallmark for all other museli experiences in my life, with the exception of a serving I had in Zug, Switzerland every subsequent museli left me wanting and musing about why Ricky would create something so good and take it away. The 2011 version is as good as any and quite photogenic.

Next was the Sophie’s Choice of toast: Cuban French Toast with fruit vs. Grilled Cinnamon Bread with fruit and cream. The Gourmand approach to problem solving goes something like this, “when in doubt, get both”. It was the right choice. Both get “best of show” in their classes. I can not advise you to pick one over the other. The crunchy, funnel cake like batter on the French Toast is borderline addictive. French or not, Cuban bread is the finest way to experience this dish. As for the Cinnamon Bread, the cream was great – I would love to see more on teh side next time.

(I mean really, how could you choose?)


All the breads are made in-house at Explorers Club. The bread is fresh, hearty and serves as a great base for many of the dishes or a compliment for dipping sauces on the side. One their best uses of bread is the Fried Egg sandwich served on Ciabatta with Muenster Cheese and Jalapeno slaw with redskin potatoes on the side. This is a bit messy to eat but who cares, it might be the best breakfast sandwich (non-traditional category) in town.

Love at first bite? In my case, they had me at OPEN. Trying to be objective, would I feel the same way about Explorers Club without the prior history? Yes. If anything my expectations and hopes may have made impressing me more difficult. Considering that more additions and improvements are in the works for the coming weeks, it is easy to believe their grade of A going to A+. The Explorer’s Club is worth exploring. I would suggest going for both a dinner and brunch to gauge the potential that is here.

I will be writing about the Explorers Club more for sure. I am interested in what the bar menu will have to offer as well as the variety of cocktails appearing behind the bar. Did I mention I was really happy?

The Explorer’s Club opens the doors to the world on October 28th, 2011.

Explorers Club
1586 S. High Street
Merion Village / South Side
614.725-0155
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Explorers Club on Urbanspoon

Posted in CLOSED, Locally Sourced, restaurants, sandwiches, Vegetarian Friendly | Tagged: , , | 13 Comments »

Galaxy Cafe: A Story of Passion

Posted by cmh gourmand on February 10, 2010

I am frequently asked where my passion for food came from. It was a fluke. I was born with a clean plate mentality but there is nothing in my upbringing that would grow a gourmand. My father makes a good apple cake and enjoys cooking but there is nothing about him that is gourmet. My dad’s style of cooking involves a lot of grease as well as very humble and simple ingredients from his rural roots. While growing up a big night out for us would be a trip to Elby’s or Villa Nova. The most exotic food I had encountered until my middle college days was Gouda. As for the rules of fine dining, I had no idea or training in the order of operations for forks, napkin use and etc. On an eighth grade overnight field trip involving a hotel dinner my classmates were quick to point out my lack of refinement in the art of ordering and all things service and manners – my social awkwardness extended to my understanding of anything sitting on a dining table. I grew up eating in front of a TV consuming a fairly narrow range of foods and drinking a lot of Coke. While living with a host family in Australia during a college summer abroad, I was introduced to the art of the family meal and the continental use of tableware as well as how good a fresh beet or sweet potato could be. I had my first glass of wine in Melbourne but these were just novel things and did not start a culinary life (but it did change the rest of me starting an obsession with the land down under that fueled five more extended visits and countless misadventures).

The day I walked into the Galaxy Cafe was the day it all changed. I must digress with a some Columbus culinary history. The Galaxy Cafe was in Powell, well off the beaten path. This was a few years before Columbus and Delaware started to merge together and Powell was considered far away – drive 30 minutes for dinner?. Ricky Barnes was one of the owners. There was a falling out with his partner who left to open the Starliner Diner. A grill cook left to start a place called Nacho Mama’s which had a short but fabulous run fueled by fish tacos. These three places brought a new attitude and ingredients to the mainstream of the metropolitan area in the form of plantains, cilantro, black bean hummus, fusions of southwestern flavors and breakfast menus that set diners spinning on their stools. This is also the first time that I had experienced food that was intended to be vegetarian. At the time, the Galaxy Cafe was the only place in town that was quick to play alternative music, hang interesting art and hire tattooed, pierced and painfully cute artsy waitresses (sigh).

I came to know Ricky well. I was in heaven when The Galaxy opened in Grandview. The menu was the same but the specials were different and the commute was shorter. A weekly routine developed where eight to ten of my friends and I would hold court for one breakfast and one dinner or more each week in either Galaxy. As Ricky came to know us he would ask us to sample new dishes, solicit us for feedback and occasionally comp us a dessert for our loyalty. The most memorable dish from this era was homemade museli soaked in real cream that served as my morning muse many, many times.

The next development was a third entry into the Galaxy empire called Lost Planet Pizza and Pasta in the Short North. Ricky and company created thin crust pizzas with topping combinations that could not be conceived by mere mortals. An array of pastas were created that blended the favors of Asia, Italy and other diverse locales. It was about this time that Ricky started to offer special wine dinners where a distributor would come in to serve and talk about a selection of wines paired with new dishes that the restaurants were considering. These dinners were always packed with the loyalists of the Galaxy and they remain in my memory as among the best meals I have had. Lost Planet offered a weekday lunch time all you could eat pizza and pasta buffet so I was there on every state holiday (since I don’t work downtown). Ricky started to teach an occasional class/workshop at Columbus State so I took his classes and learned a little bit about cooking. I learned a lot about being fearless in the kitchen by having the courage to cook without the safety net of a recipe and the confidence to say something that was burned was intentionally charred. As with most of my interests I was frequently the sole man in the class and often the only person under 50.

Things were great and therefore it was doomed to end. The Galaxy in Powell was sold (it became the first La Tavola – which was awesome). Then The Galaxy (Grandview) was closed. For the final night – Ricky cooked everything left in the restaurant until it was all gone and did not charge a thing. The Lost Planet carried on for a while but faltered. Ricky left town to chef at a resort out west and it was the end of an era.

There was a brief rekindling of the affair when Ricky came back to Columbus and took the old Lost Planet space and reopened as Ricky’s Galaxy. The menu was a fusion of the Galaxies and Lost Planet. However, things did not click on round two. The place struggled with staff consistency and had a lot of problems with hiring enough employees. The fans of Galaxies past struggled with having to find a parking spot in the Short North when they were accustomed to free parking lots in the suburbs. There were some bright moments. The highlight was an adobo eggs and jalapeno cornbread dish Ricky had been working on. He nailed it on Sunday August 26th, 2001. It was the best breakfast of my life and I told him so.

The day after I went to Ireland with my girlfriend. During the trip I saw that first glimpse of a possibility that the woman I thought I was going to marry might not be “the one”. On the flight home one of the engines failed so the plane turned around and limped back to Ireland. As we were being herded to a hotel to await a flight for the following day we were told that the engine was fixed, a flight crew had been found and that anyone that was going to the United States had better get on the plane in 10 minutes. We scrambled back on the plane. Due to a bit of luck, I made it back to Columbus late on September 10th, 2001, one day late instead of two. Needless to say, the next day was not so great either. I knew I needed to get grounded after that much trauma so on Sunday I walked into Ricky’s Galaxy to find…..a bar, Liz Lessner behind it and that the place was now called Betty’s. In shock, I turned around and walked out. In two weeks the Galaxy had imploded and my universe had changed.

The Galaxy Cafe opened the door to culinary curiosity for me. It introduced me to the Short North, Grandview and the world outside of 270. While all of this history was being made, I was recording some of it. I compiled a tomb about my favorite Columbus restaurants called the Good Food Guide. It had a few paragraphs on each place, copies of menus and hand drawn maps. It was very low tech. I would print up batches of ten to twenty at a time to give to friends and anyone I thought would be interested. Most people were not interested. I revised it several times and added information about my favorite places in Dayton and Yellow Springs and elsewhere. There are about 100 GFG’s versions I – IV floating around Ohio. I took one of these to a freelance writing class taught by Shannon Jackson Arnold who was editor at Ohio Magazine. We hit it off so I started to write about food for Ohio Magazine – traveling all over the state in pursuit of my passion. That is the beginning of the story. I am not sure how it ends but I know I there are still many more forks in the road until I get to where I am intended to be.

Posted in culinary knowledge, restaurants | Tagged: , | 24 Comments »