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Columbus Report

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waldito May 25, 2012 03:59 AM

SF 'hound, just returned from 4 days in Colombus. All in all, it's an enjoyable city and we certainly didn't starve! Somehow I missed the midwest re-org of the forums, so while there I was reduced to looking at yelp. Sigh.

In order of most exciting to least:

Jeni's Ice Cream: nailed it. I think this stands with the best of 'em (and I eat plenty of the usual top-notch suspects here at home in San Francisco). The goat cheese and red cherries had just enough going on. The mango lassi was note-perfect. Every sorbet (I had every option available here over the course of 4 days, what with the hot temperatures, by my coastal standards) was simple and fantastic, with the roasted pear-riesling and cherry-lambic as standouts. The only flavor whch struck a wrong note for me was the Bangkok peanut -- the Thai component seemed to be just red pepper flakes and the peanut element was a fine (but not fine enough) ground texture which just made a gritty base.

Their ice cream base seems spot on, not too fatty and cloying. And the flavor palettes are well thought out. I'd put them on par with Mr and Mrs Miscellaneous here at home. Win!

North Market:
Omega Baking, lovely cinnamon rolls. All breads, croissants, etc looked gorgeous, but the cinnamon roll was all I had a chance to eat.
Holy Smoke BBQ, solid. Great brisket, even though it had sat in the tray for a while, still moist and delectable. Nice smoky 4-bean side, and likewise very flavorful collard greens. Mac and cheese was well-crafted but did suffer from time on the steam tray. Which is to say it was mushy.
Polish Kitchen, not bad. Although I've been to Poland, that was some time ago, so I can only judge on general yumminess, not authenticity. Pierogi were great, Goulash (hey, that's Hungarian!) was also delightful -- spicy and soupy over fluffy mashed potatoes. There was a chicken 'meatball,' forget the name exactly, but it had a wealth of vowels. Also a wealth of cheddar, which was fine but certainly not Polish. But all tasty and particulary friendly (and in Columbus, that's saying a lot!), so who cares!
Bubbles Tea, not exotic, but well done, and my wife visited a few times. I had a few sips every time, and it was fine. Just a sweet and fruity tea basically, no Thai palette.
A Touch of Earth: perfectly fine coffee. But see my notes below on 'significant misses'.
Curds N Whey: a very decent cheese, sausage, prosciutto, etc, selection. And castelvetrano olives! Alas, he only had rather large sealed 16oz tubs, which was too much for me. I asked if he sold smaller portions, and he informed me that he used to, but there wasn't as much turnover as he hoped, so they spoiled quickly, as castelvetranos will do. A darn knowledgeable answer! I did have a local-ish chevre which was pleasant and a bit grassy.

Chef Butcher's Creole Kitchen: quite good. A very legit crew (krewe?) of big friendly guys in the kitchen. I had a catfish po boy, which was good but not awesome and a side of red beans n rice, which really hit the spot. Beans had a great flavor and that just-right texture. The guy in front of me got gumbo which is what I would order given another chance.

Lindey's: Gorgeous patio. Attentive service. Marginal wine list. Straightforward salads. But my medium-rare steak was cooked wierdly. It was actually medium rare, but was cooked much more on one side than the other, so the strip of rare in the middle was offset way to one side. One side had almost no grill marks. That just shouldn't happen at the grill station, so rates a mention in the 'significant misses' category.

Clever Crow: although there is an outpost in the North Market, we sampled this at its home at the Circus bar. A very California-y pizza (for bay area folk, think Pauline's, or better yet, Vicolo). Some oddball hippy-dippy options (black bean hummus on pizza?) which we avoided. A heavy hand with the sauce and a bit thin on the cheese. Good, not great. More super-friendly service! A Scottish ale at the bar whose name I neglected to note (not McEwan's or any of the other usual suspects) which was fairly flat and warm: competely legit.

Marcella's: perfectly passable Italian. Nothing stellar or surprising, except that they make a white sangria, which is a bit on the sweet and extra-fruity side -- just how I like it! Pasta was a bit past al dente, the house meatballs were unexceptional. Arancini were probably the standout here, just simple and small-sized but done right and not oily. Prosciuto con melone is hard to screw up unless you get the proportions wrong, which they did.

Old Mohawk: the reviews lead me a bit astray; it's decent diner food and nothing more. It has two $$ signs on yelp, yet nothing on the menu is over $10.99! Ah, Columbus prices! I had a bratwurst sando and side of vegetarian chili. No surprises except for the pickle wedge which was more of a sweet sandwich pickle rather than the dill I was expecting. Crunchy and good.

Happy Greek: okay. Falafel were the standout, flavorful, crisp yet still moist inside. Spanikopita was soggy. Pita were not warm or endearing. But the patio, while not fancy, was nice, my spicy chicken was spicy, and (shocker) service was friendly.

Jueurgen's Bäckerei: Not what I was hoping for at all. If you don't have brötchen or möhnkuchen, you're not a Bäckerei. I got a cherry danish, but it was meh and I was sad.

Summing up. HIts: Friendly, earnest people everywhere. We didn't get less than sunny cheerful service anywhere, which is hardly the case here at home. It's a midwest/great lakes thing, I suppose! And Jeni's Ice cream: it's world-class.

Misses: this is sort of a list of things I forgot could go wrong, but evidently they do! Steak at Lindey's: maybe the guy at the grill station fell asleep. But a medium-rare steak cross-hatched with grill marks because you turned it 3 times -- in a place that serves 4 steak cuts at big-city prices -- that should be a core competency. Coffee at Touch of Earth, North Market: if you're going to do pour-over coffee, there are 3 or 4 important steps. They got 3 right, but they ground the coffee and let it sit for 3 minutes before wetting it! That's a coffee fail. And I got a chuckle out of the menu at Barcelona, which also has a lovely patio, which as its first item lists paella made with Basmati rice. Ouch. And finally, it seems like the town just discovered sushi, as it is everywhere. Even at a place called Lemongrass (subtitled Korean Fushion). There's so much wrong there, I don't know where to start.

All in all, as a prejudiced San Franciscan, I wasn't expecting much, but I was really pleasantly surprised.

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  1. Crockett67 RE: waldito May 25, 2012 07:58 AM

    I'm glad to see you enjoyed our city. :)

    The huge sushi thing here is really due to the university. We have a HUGE asian population and a glut of good Indian, Thai, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese food is found in the upper west corner of the city. There's even a Filipino place in Dublin I just haven't been there yet.

    Yes, Jeni's is very highly ranked here. She is a gracious and giving individual that also has wonderful ice cream to boot.

    Hubert from Hubert's Polish Kitchen is from Poland. He use to run a Discotech there before coming to America. So the food is heavily influenced from Poland, but he does try to use as much of the items from the market as possible. He is a character.

    You hit a lot of places, next time your in town perhaps we could make a few other suggestions that will open up the rest of C-bus to you.

    1. Boston_Otter RE: waldito May 30, 2012 05:19 AM

      I think this is a very honest and objective view of Columbus food. I'm really glad you got to North Market and German Village -- it's a great sample of some of the things Cols. does best.

      1. w
        waldito RE: waldito Jun 12, 2012 02:07 AM

        Thanks for the replies!

        Yes, I really did enjoy C-bus. @Crockett: I 'd love to see a list of your suggestions for next time; going forward that will help others who hit this thread too! Like I said, seeing no hits on chowhound, and having to resort to y*lp, was a hardship.

        In particular, if there's a short-list of 'ethnic' (by which I mean Asian, South Asian, Mexican, Caribbean, Eastern European, African, etc), that would be useful. I'll confess, I'm prejudiced against places that are in a strip-mall or look like they're in a strip mall (like I said, I'm a prejudiced San Franciscan!). So for Indian, all I saw was Aab, which I had seen highly reviewed on yelp, but looks really strip-mall-y, so I didn't bother stopping on my bike ride. Likewise Cafe del Mondo, where I was prepared to eat something, but when I got there and saw the suburban-y presentation, plus all the lunch panini pre-made and wrapped in plastic in the deli case -- I just grabbed an espresso and bolted. But I did enjoy all the confused yelp comments on how 'hidden' and obscure Cafe del Mondo is. Hello, just look for the giant Wonder Bread sign!

        But then there's the reverse prejudice where you discover something in a strip-mall setting that seems like it's the last outpost of a forgotten or distanced nuanced tradition. The SF and LA chowhound threads are full of these discussions. So if you've got any hidden gems like that, put em on the map! Butcher's was that sort of place, for my visit.

        Every cab driver we had was west african. Where do they eat?! I forgot to ask. I do wonder if they have some special cuisine, as every taxi driver used turn signals and drove about the speed limit. It was a serious shock.

        Edit: I should say Columbus, for search results. Columbus, Ohio. all right!

        6 Replies
        1. re: waldito
          Boston_Otter RE: waldito Jun 12, 2012 03:12 AM

          One trouble with Columbus is that it's a very mall-ish city. A lot of excellent places to eat get stuck in strip malls and look like something you should avoid. For example, there's a Greek restaurant near Gahanna called Mykonos Taverna that's some of my favorite Greek -- love their saganaki.

          1. re: waldito
            v
            VTB RE: waldito Jun 12, 2012 06:26 PM

            I've been contemplating a Columbus foodie road trip. Thank you for sharing your experience. I'm surprised the Columbus folk didn't get all defensive. They must be confident/comfortable in their own scene.

            1. re: VTB
              Boston_Otter RE: VTB Jun 12, 2012 08:20 PM

              Having lived there for 1/3 of my life, waldito's report is very honest and well-observed. Nothing to get defensive about :)

              One thing I'm eager to try next time I visit Columbus is the west side taco truck scene. Websites like Serious Eats have reported on the awesome tacos, and there's even foodie tours that, for a fee, will take you in a plush bus to the different taco trucks.

              1. re: Boston_Otter
                Ditdah RE: Boston_Otter Jun 15, 2012 10:51 AM

                The link to the foodie tours, if anyone's interested. I haven't been on them:
                http://columbusfoodadventures.com/

                1. re: Ditdah
                  NancyH RE: Ditdah Jun 15, 2012 11:22 AM

                  I don't know about a plush bus (though it was comfortable), but I very much enjoyed the Ethnic Eats Tour I took with Columbus Food Adventures in 2010. I recommend them.

              2. re: VTB
                Ditdah RE: VTB Jun 15, 2012 10:50 AM

                Agree with Boston Otter; why would we get defensive? I agree with most of what waldito said, and I didn't see anything nasty or slamming the C-bus food scene. I thought it was a good review.

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