A Whiff Of Spring

After months of enduring the rude blasts of winter, the people of Columbus were ready to savor a little decent weather. So when an unseasonably warm February day saw the temperatures hit the 70s, Columbusites weren’t about to let the moment pass without enjoying the spring-like conditions to the fullest. Along Gay Street, the patrons at the bars and restaurants were happily dining and drinking al fresco, and a downtown resident had donned shorts to walk his dog.

The dog seemed to enjoy the weather, too. Let’s face it — when February rolls around, everybody’s got a little spring fever.

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The Random Restaurant Tour (XI)

In Columbus, at least, Greek restauranteurs must be an emotional bunch who wear the core elements of their personalities on their shirt sleeves. In the footprint of our fair city, we’ve got dining establishments identified with a Mad Greek, a Crazy Greek, a Simple Greek, and even a Yappy Greek.

Yesterday, though, we were in a good mood at lunchtime, so we ventured to The Happy Greek. It’s a Short North staple that’s been there for decades — which makes it all the more bizarre that I’ve never been inside its doors. But there’s a first time for everything.

The Happy Greek has all the trappings that you’ve come to expect in a Greek restaurant, including wall paintings of happy dancing Greeks and a bar fashioned to look like the Acropolis. (Surprisingly, the proprietor wasn’t outfitted like Socrates.) And, of course, a menu that features lots of salads and other traditional Greek fare.

My theory on a new restaurant is that you first try one of the basics from their menu, and if that is good you then branch out to other options on subsequent visits. Since I don’t eat salad, Greek or otherwise, I went for the lamb pita sandwich with onions, tzatziki sauce, and fries. The sandwich was big, with lots of succulent lamb and fresh pita bread, enjoyably messy to eat with your hands, and very tasty. The fries were a little on the salty side for my taste, but the seasoning did go well when I started to use the fries to mop up stray pools of the tzatziki sauce, which was so good I could have imbibed it by the tumbler. I’ll definitely come back.

And I should add that the people inside were very friendly, too. With a name like The Happy Greek, they’re pretty much required to be, I guess.

The Random Restaurant Tour (X)

Yesterday Dr. Science and I visited Andes Bar & Grill, one of the very newest restaurants in downtown Columbus. It’s located on Fourth Street, next to the YWCA, in a spot previously occupied by Hae-Paul’s Korean-American eatery.

Andes offers home-cooked meals of Bolivian comfort food.  At our waitress’ suggestion, Dr. Science and I both went for the chicken and rice plate, and we also split some empanadas.  The chicken was a good-sized leg and thigh that had been slow-cooked.  It was awesomely juicy and tender, making it easy to use knife and fork to extricate every last ounce of succulent meat off the bone.  The chicken was served in a kind of rich gravy, and I gladly mixed the meat and gravy with the rice, added a few dashes from a bottle of Cholula hot sauce on the table, and went at it.  The empanadas also were quite good, crisp and crunchy on the outside and moist and hot on the inside.  Dr. Science, recalling his days handling test tubes and Bunsen burners, deftly used his empanada as a kind of fence to allow his fork to retrieve every last grain of rice.

The chicken was served at a mild spice level, and after we finished our food the friendly proprietor came by to ask how we liked the food and to clear our plates.  When he saw that we had both cleaned our plates and left only a few well-picked bones behind, he beamed.  He also happens to be the cook, and we asked about the available options if you’re looking for a little additional kick with your meal.  He said that traditionally Bolivian food is served at a very mild spice level, and people can then tailor the heat of their dish to their specific taste by adding sauces that are served separately.  He said that Andes has two homemade sauces that you can use for that purpose, one that is at a moderate spice level and one that goes in, all guns blazing.

The chance to eat that home-cooked food with a fiery sauce will definitely cause me to spring on the back of my llama and head back to the Andes.

Columbus (Surprisingly?) Makes The First Cut

I’ve written before about Amazon’s announcement to build a second headquarters facility somewhere in North America, and the efforts of cities like Columbus and San Antonio to attract the river of Amazon cash that would flow with the building of the giant company’s second HQ.  In all, Amazon received 238 proposals from cities throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico that wanted to be considered in the selection process.

downtown-columbusYesterday, Amazon announced the list of the locations that will be 20 finalists, and lo and behold, Columbus made the list.  San Antonio, alas, did not.

According to the New York Times, the selection of Columbus (as well as Nashville) to be among the 20 finalists was a “surprise.”  The Times contrasted the Columbus “surprise” with cities that were “widely expected to make the cut,” like Boston, Denver, and Dallas, “hip centers like Miami and Austin, Tex.,” and Los Angeles and New York, as “centers of the tech industry.”  Some people in Columbus were irked by the “surprise” reactions, which seem to have a lot more to do with our city’s historic “cowtown” image rather than the reality of the modern Columbus.  One Columbus publication, 614, chastised the Times for reflecting “regional snobbery” to “take a big poo on our small victory.

According to the Times article:  “The process will now shift into a new phase, with Amazon representatives communicating more directly with the finalist cities as they prepare to select a winner later this year — and perhaps with cities being even more outspoken about why they should be chosen. Emissaries from Amazon are expected to visit the finalist locations in person.”

It will be nice to have the Amazon emissaries come to Columbus to see for themselves what our fair city has to offer and hear about why it would be an excellent choice for “HQ2,” with its anticipated $5 billion in investments and 50,000 high-paying jobs.  Who knows?  Maybe they’ll experience “surprise” when they stop by — or maybe they already know that Columbus is a great place, and that’s why we made the list of finalists in the first place.

Smokers On Ice

Walking home from work tonight, with the temperature plummeting rapidly and already down below 10 degrees, I saw one of the people at the outdoor bus stop in front of the Ohio Statehouse smoking a cigarette.  And I thought:  “Really? Smoking in these ridiculous temperatures?”

a9a4f5381b5f6269a640259f845f9c7f-dart-frogs-cold-handsKish makes fun of me, because as a long reformed ex-smoker — I puffed my last cigarette more than 25 years ago and am forever happy that I quit when I did — I’m always quick to wonder aloud how anyone can smoke, period, even though I smoked off and on for a number of years.  In that regard, I’m like the one-time sinner turned into a holier-than-thou convert.  But if smoking under normal conditions seems crazy, given its abundantly documented health risks, smoking a cigarette outside in these temperatures seems especially insane.  In fact, there is some evidence that smoking outside during freezing temperatures is even worse for you than smoking is generally.

In Columbus, you can’t smoke in most buildings as a matter of law, so at our firm, and in other businesses, the few remaining smokers have to go outside to indulge in their habit.  You’d think that, as the mercury plunges into bitterly cold territory, the smokers would decide to refrain from going outside into the deep freeze and maybe even consider quitting altogether.  But when you pass the smoking area outside, behind our building, there’s always a few people puffing away, even on a day like today.  They look terribly cold, and act like they feel terribly cold, but they’re out there smoking, anyway.  It’s a pretty good indication of how addictive smoking is for some people — and a pretty good advertisement for why you shouldn’t start smoking in the first place.

In Praise Of Bingeing Technology

You can argue about the value of some technological advancements that we have seen in our lifetimes.  Is the invention of Roomba vacuuming robots, for example, really a good thing?  However, the significance of one development is indisputable:

The ability to engage in TV and movie binge-watching during the cold Midwestern winter months is one of the greatest leaps forward for the human species since the ancient Egyptians developed papyrus.

tmp_uirc5w_4f3814e036213fed_harry_potter_photoConsider this week in Columbus, Ohio.  It has been so absurdly cold, with ambient temperatures hovering, with leaden immobility, in the single digits and wind chill factors below zero, that there is absolutely no incentive to go outside voluntarily.  Unless you’ve got to go to work or to an appointment, there is no rational reason whatsoever to venture into the frigidity.  So, you’re stuck inside.  What to do?  Well, you could read a book, of course . . . or, you could be intellectually lazy and binge-watch TV, thanks to options like Netflix and Amazon TV and cable channels that offer premium options.  The last few days Kish and I have curled up on the couch at nights and begun watching the entire Harry Potter movie series — thanks, HBO and AT&T Uverse! — and it’s been a lot of fun.

You don’t have to watch the Harry Potter movies, of course — you could watch The Wire, or Deadwood, or Lost from start to finish, or a whole season of 24, or the John Wayne westerns in sequence, or the Thin Man films from beginning to end, or every movie in the Shirley Temple collection.  With the amount of new content being produced these days, and the amount of old TV shows and movies that remain available for casual viewing, your binge-watching options are virtually infinite.  And whatever you choose, you’re going to be entertained . . . and out of the cold.

I’m not suggesting that binge-watching TV is something that people should do constantly, week-in and week-out — but when the cold fronts plant themselves in your neighborhood and going outside becomes a bleak, frigid experience, binge-watching is a wonderful option to have.  As I said, it’s right up there with papyrus.