The Keep

23_the_keep_restaurant_bar_columbus__hotel_le_veque-1500x1001Last night Kish and I and Mr. and Mrs. JV had dinner at The Keep, one of Columbus’ newest restaurant options.  It’s located on the mezzanine level of the Hotel LeVeque, smack dab in the middle of downtown Columbus.

Given the name, I thought The Keep might have a medieval castle theme, with a wait staff carrying crossbows or broadswords.  There was no jousting or armor plating visible during our visit, however.  We first had a drink — well, actually two, since none of us were going to be driving home — at The Keep’s bar, which was packed with people and hosting at least two separate holiday parties.  We knew we were in a cutting-edge spot when we learned that the people next to us were both out-of-towners who had arranged their first meeting via Tinder.  The bar offers lots of different cocktail, wine, and beer options, as well as a limited bar food menu.  We skipped the food, since we were going to be eating at the restaurant next door, and enjoyed our drinks and the lively, bustling urban vibe of the place.

The restaurant is a few steps away from the bar.  It is modeled as a modern French brasserie, and — to this uneducated wine fancier, at least — it has a very solid selection of French wines, as well as domestic labels.  Given the brasserie setting, I felt compelled to start my meal with the French onion soup, which was good and served piping hot, without the overload of bread and cheese that you frequently get with that order.  You could actually eat the soup without having to use your spoon to saw through an inch-thick layer of bread and cheese and having the soup splash out of the bowl as a result.   My entree was the Guajillo pork cheeks, served with black-eyed peas, collard greens, and corn nuts.  It was very tasty, too.  As JV observed, the portions are kept to moderate size, so you can be a member of the Clean Plate Club without having to waddle out of the joint, groaning with a mixture of satiation and discomfort.  The reasonable portion size also left room for Kish and me to split a really good dessert consisting of a kind of miniature spicy Bundt cake with ice cream.

The ambiance of The Keep restaurant is appealing and has definite brasserie elements, with a central dining counter area and tables and booths spread around.  One other thing:  as we looked around, we realized that we were by far the oldest folks in the room.  That was true in the bar area, too.  How often are fun-loving 60-year-olds the senior citizens in a downtown restaurant?  Maybe the younger crowd is attracted by the brasserie setting, or the central downtown location, or the prices, which I thought were very reasonable.  In any event, it was nice to know that we oldsters had stumbled upon a hip place where the cool kiddie set hangs out.  We’d go back, if they let us in.

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At The Holiday Pinch Point

It’s 10 days before Christmas, and it’s time to make some important decisions.

Not about shopping.  If you haven’t done your shopping by now, you may as well wait until the very last minute and become one of those pathetic, lost wretches who makes a mad dash to the stores on December 24 and hopes to find something decent for the people on your shopping list (which I can attest from personal experience can be done, mind you).  No, I’m talking about decisions about eating.

holiday2Already I can feel the clothing growing a bit, er, snug, and the holiday parties and open houses and receptions are only now beginning to appear on the calendar in earnest.  We’ve tried — really, really tried! — to be sensible and good about our consumption, but already we’ve been tempted by, and succumbed to, chocolate-covered nuts from the Pacific Northwest, and some of the very best brittle you can imagine.  Delectable home-baked cookies, and delicious trifle, and pies, and pound cake, and candied almonds, and bowls of irresistible red and green M&Ms, and God knows what else have appeared before us and vanished down the gullet.  About the only thing we’ve been able to successfully resist is fruitcake.

And now the clothing is sending us a message, and we’ve got a decision to make:  (1) get all of the Christmas goodies out of the house, immediately, defer any further confectionary consumption until the Christmas meal itself, and thereby try to stay in reasonable fighting trim until the holidays are behind us, or (2) give up the ghost entirely, have a roaring good time at the remaining parties, go all in on stuffing ourselves with the foods and drinks that make the festive times festive, and vow to really address that waistline after New Year’s Day.

You know, I’ve heard that January is really a good time for losing weight, because you end up burning calories just to stay warm.

In 2018, Does The Pendulum Swing?

Alabama elected a Democratic Senator Tuesday, for the first time in 25 years.  The state is so deep red that the last Democrat to be elected, Richard Shelby in 1992, decided to become a Republican two years into his term.  But on Tuesday, Democrat Doug Jones prevailed — and unlike Shelby, Jones is likely to stay a Democrat for a while.

dfoug-jones-louise-jones-08a67a68d49977afAlabama electing a Democrat to the Senate is so outlandishly contrarian that it has people talking about whether 2018 will bring another “wave” election, where the pendulum swings in the opposite direction and dissatisfied voters rebel against the party in power and vote in droves for the other party.  We’ve seen a number of “wave” elections in recent years, especially in midterm elections, and Democrats are hoping that Jones’ unlikely triumph in the Republican solid south presages a year in which Democrats sweep to power in the House, the Senate, and gubernatorial races across the country — including Ohio.

The question that can’t be answered just yet is whether the Alabama results represent a shift in voter perceptions of Republicans and Democrats generally — or whether it was really a one-off rejection of Roy Moore, the bizarre, deeply flawed Republican candidate who was accused of sexual misconduct and who has lots of other baggage on his resume.  Did Alabamans who formerly have voted for Republicans vote for Jones because they decided that they now like the Democratic platform, or did they vote for Jones because they thought Moore would be an abject embarrassment to their state, or did they not vote at all, allowing the Alabama citizens who always vote for Democrats to carry the day in a low-turnout election?  And if it is the latter scenario, is that brooding sense of malaise by Republican voters due to national issues — like the antics of our Tweeter-in-Chief — and likely to be displayed other states?

Of course, only time will tell.  We don’t know yet who is going to be running in those House, Senate, and gubernatorial races that will be occurring next year, and the talk of a potential wave election may spur a counter-reaction by Republicans who become energized because they don’t want to see the party lose the House and Senate under any circumstances, whether they like and support Trump or find him to be a constant source of embarrassment.

I can’t speak for Alabama, having never set foot in that state, but I’m sensing a lot of unease and uncertainty in Ohio and other places I’ve visited — and while a lot of it involves Trump, a lot of it stems, too, from the sexual harassment allegations that have bedeviled both parties and a seemingly general sense of dissatisfaction with Democrats and Republicans alike.  In such a volatile atmosphere, just about anything is possible.

Done, And Done

Last night I iced and decorated the sugar cookies, and then I got up early this morning to finish putting the cookies into festive tins and writing notes for the recipients of this year’s holiday baking — who I hope will enjoy the new recipes and the new twists on old favorites.

And, because no job is truly completed until the clean-up work is done, this morning I also stashed the baking implements and remaining supplies and wiped down the countertops, so there’s nary a sign of a marathon baking effort. Now, I can sit and enjoy a cup of coffee . . . and, admittedly, a warm feeling of accomplishment, too.

The Ghosts Of Johnny Marzetti

It’s amazing what you can learn just by looking at signs in downtown Columbus.  Yesterday, as I was walking past a building that is being rehabbed and rebranded near the intersection of Broad and High Streets, I learned that its first floor space once housed Marzetti’s Restaurant — and its signature creation, Johnny Marzetti.

Really?  Who knew that, for more than 30 years now, I’ve worked less than a block away from the birthplace of one of the most hated school cafeteria offerings of my childhood?

johnny-marzetti-2It’s hard to imagine that Johnny Marzetti was actually created by any human being, much less somebody in middle-of-the-road Columbus, Ohio.  I never ate the Johnny Marzetti created by the former Marzetti’s Restaurant, but the dish served under that name by the hair-netted cafeteria staff of the Akron-area schools seemed like it must have been concocted by the devil — or perhaps was the residue of nuclear detonation tests on the island of Bimini.

Inevitably tepid, baked to a concrete brick-like consistency with a sharp-edged crust, flavored with tooth-curling, industrial strength tomato sauce purchased in garbage can-sized drums, shot through with suspiciously chewy ersatz meat by-products, and plopped on to your tray with a resounding thwack, Johnny Marzetti was always greeted with a groan by the kids at Rankin Elementary and Eastview Junior High.  And when, as was inevitably the case, the rigid pile of Johnny Marzetti went largely unconsumed and was returned at the tray drop-off at the end of lunch period, it was carefully scraped into a container — presumably to be recycled for another lunch next week, or perhaps used as mortar on the foundation of the school addition being constructed next door.

Johnny Marzetti — along with the other dish that my sister Cath and I loathed and called “hairy fatty chicken” — was largely responsible for converting me into a dedicated bring your own sack lunch student.  Why expose yourself to the possibility of picking at that inert pink mound of glop when you could have a PB and J made by Mom, with an apple and a Twinkie, too?  In its own demonic way, the Johnny Marzetti served by school cafeterias made us all appreciate the loving cooking efforts of our mothers.

That location being rehabbed at 16 East Broad Street now carries a lot of baggage for me.  I wonder if a restaurant will ultimately start up in that space — and if so, I wonder if I’ll have the guts to overcome the ghosts of Johnny Marzetti and try it.

13 Billion Miles Away, And Still Working

Let’s pause for a moment, ignore the ugliness and failure that seems to boil out of the depths of Washington, D.C. on a daily basis, and consider for a moment something that everyone can agree America has done incredibly well:  manned, and unmanned, space exploration.

640px-ec_voyager_saturnConsider Voyager 1.  It was launched 40 years ago, in September 1977, during the early years of the Carter Administration.  With its sister probe Voyager 2, it successfully explored the major planets of our solar system, sending back fabulous pictures of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn and collecting data that gave us a better understanding of the two giants in the neighborhood of planets circling the Sun.  I remember belonging to a group called The Planetary Society that supported space exploration and travel and getting some of the fantastic Voyager photos as part of my membership.

But then, Voyager 1 just kept going, and going, and going.  It is now more than 13 billion miles away, and has officially gone past the boundaries of our solar system and is out in the trackless areas of interstellar space.  And it’s still working, too.  Recently NASA sent a message out to Voyager 1, instructing it to fire its trajectory correction maneuver thrusters for the first time since November 8, 1980, a few days after the presidential election in which Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter.  The Voyager flight team had to send the instructions in an outdated software language — imagine how much the computer world has changed since 1977! — and it took more than 19 hours for the instruction to reach Voyager 1, but the instruction worked, and the thrusters fired for the first time in 37 years.  The firing of the thrusters allows Voyager to keep its communication antenna pointed in our direction and to keep sending us data as it moves farther out into the void.

It’s pretty amazing stuff, and Americans should be proud of this accomplishment and the planning, and engineering, and foresight that went into the Voyager program.  Of course, we don’t hear about it, in the haze of coverage of presidential tweets and other current news — but it’s a noteworthy accomplishment just the same.  Kudos to NASA!

Neighborhood Wish List

The spot in the middle of German Village where the original Max and Erma’s once operated for four decades has been vacant for a few months now, without any apparent signs of activity. Recently, though, stickers that look like those irritating “My name is” name tags that always fall off your suit coat appeared on the front windows. Yesterday Kish and I took a closer look, and the stickers represent some people’s wishes for what business should now occupy the property. I’m not sure whether the stickers were filled out by neighbors, former employees, Trader Joe’s shareholders, or somebody else who likes comics. Seriously . . . a comic book shop?

I’d like to see a restaurant in the spot. Something ethnic, perhaps. Maybe a good Szechuan spot?