Evening Entrepreneurs

If you’re worried about whether there is any entrepreneurial spirit left in America, relax!  Last night we paid a visit to the Moonlight Market on Gay Street in downtown Columbus, and we can faithfully report that the entrepreneurial spirit in Cbus is alive and most definitely kicking.

The Moonlight Market is held once a month on the two blocks of Gay Street between High Street and Fourth.  Vendors set up tents on each side of the street — including on the sidewalk directly in front of the firm — and sell all manner of products, from artwork to baked goods and other foods to used books to plants to clothing to massages.  Unlike some street markets, all of the participants in the Moonlight Market seem to be individuals who are pursuing their passions through their small businesses and trying to make a few bucks in the process.  Without exception, the vendors are friendly, outgoing, and excited about what they are selling, and their enthusiasm is infectious.  You can’t help but pull for these people, and also support them with your wallets.  We bought some colorful artwork and some tasty baked goods from some very appreciative sellers.

Capitalism has its good points and its bad points, and some of the good points were on display last night on Gay Street.  Dozens of people were out in their tents on a very warm Saturday evening hoping to sell their handmade or hand-raised goods — even crocheted scarves and clothing that wasn’t exactly suited to the weather.  They all have stories to tell, like the young woman nicknamed Suga Pie who has a talent for cupcakes and has been working on selling them for eight years.  She’s recently created her own website and is working on her brand.  Her pineapple upside-down cupcakes are delicious, by the way.

Go get ’em, Suga Pie, and the rest of the Moonlight Market crew!  You are what makes our economy tick.  And if you want to see a little small business entrepreneurialism in the flesh, you can catch the next Moonlight Market on August 10.

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The Random Restaurant Tour — XXVIII

How many good barbecue joints should a downtown area have?  The correct answer is:  you can’t have too many.  I’m pleased to note that Columbus has added another BBQ option with Buckeye Chili & Smokehouse, which joins Pecan Penny’s and Smoked on High in the downtown/near downtown area.

Yesterday the Unkempt Guy, the Bus-Riding Conservative, and New Granddad and I legged it over to BC&S to check it out.  It’s located a few blocks east of the Ohio Statehouse and is an easy walk from Gay Street, even on a hot summer’s day.  In fact, some might argue that walking to a barbecue place is a good idea under any conditions, to help the hungry patron build up even more of an appetite.

Buckeye Chili & Smokehouse has a compelling menu and poses a tough initial choice for the arriving diner:  chili, or barbecue?  Once I decided barbecue was the way to go, I zeroed in on the mac and cheese with brisket option.  The UG and I both got it, and it was an inspired choice on our part.  The brisket was tender and juicy, the mac ‘n cheese was creamy and had just the right cheddary bite to it, and we added a little smoky barbecue sauce to complete the flavor sensation.  The result was absolutely delicious, and the UG and I also remarked that the portion size was just perfect — substantial enough to be filling, but not the kind of overwhelming amount of food that you find at some places.  We both could be members of the Clean Plate Club without feeling like we’d made pigs of ourselves — although of course pigs would fit right in at a barbecue place.

The New Grandad went for a pulled pork sandwich with onion rings, which he polished off with alacrity, and the BRC tried a pork slider special with mac ‘n cheese as the side and gobbled down his food as well.  The service was splendid, the manager checked in on us to make sure we were enjoying our meal, and as we left he came out after us and gave us all a 10 percent-off card we can use on our next visit.  And there will be a next visit, for sure.  We need to make sure that the Buckeye Chili & Smokehouse is properly welcomed to downtown Columbus, and there is chili that remains to be tried.

The Random Restaurant Tour — XXVII

I freely admit that I’m a sucker for New Orleans cuisine.  So when Dr. Science and the G.V. Jogger suggested that we check out a new joint that specializes in Creole and Cajun cuisine last night, they didn’t need to twist my arm.  Our destination was Way Down Yonder New Orleans Finest Restaurant, located a few miles south of German Village on High Street in the Great Southern Shopping Center.

downloadW.D.Y. easily passes the crucial “menu test” that I automatically apply to any restaurant that serves New Orleans food.  The menu test is as follows:  when I look at the menu, are there so many obvious, mouth-watering traditional choices that it’s impossible to make a selection?  After a few minutes of careful analysis, I was still debating between the Louisiana crawfish etouffee, red beans and rice, and fried catfish with mac ‘n cheese and dirty rice.  After Dr. Science gently reminded me that red beans and rice is a core component of any New Orleans restaurant, that’s where I landed.  Dr. Science went for the gumbo, which comes with actual crab claws, and the G.V. Jogger tried the crawfish etouffee.

Way Down Yonder offers red beans and rice in medium and large portions, and I’m glad I decided on the large.  The dish checked all of the crucial red beans and rice boxes — a deep, rich sauce with a good spicy kick to it, plenty of sliced sausage, well-cooked red beans, and just enough white rice to allow for mixing.  It was excellent.  The cornbread it comes with is excellent too — slightly sweet, with a crunchy top, and baked to a perfect consistency, so that it holds together when picked up to be eaten but also is easily crumbled to mix in with the entree.  Way Down Yonder offers an impressive menu of desserts, but I didn’t try any because after polishing off every last part of the red beans and rice and cornbread, I was full to the brim.

“Way Down Yonder New Orleans Finest Restaurant” is a mouthful, but that’s appropriate because so is their food — a flavorful, tasty, mouthful of some of the best regional cuisine the U.S. of A. has to offer.  I expect that we’ll be heading back down south for more.  Having tried the red beans and rice, I feel the fried catfish calling.

Grace Periods

Last night Kish and I went to a new restaurant for dinner.  The food was exceptionally good — I had a duck entree that was as succulent as any duck I’ve ever had — but the service was definitely wanting.

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After taking our order, our waitperson pretty much ignored us.  Other tables in the restaurant got bread; we didn’t.  When we asked a busser to let our waitperson know that we wanted refills on our glasses of wine, she scurried off and . . . nothing happened.  We were never offered a chance to order dessert.  Different people kept appearing at the table and apologizing for the delays.  Finally we just decided to chalk up the service issues to a new restaurant that is still working out the kinks, so we got our check — which also took longer than it should have, frankly, and prompted another apology from the restaurant staff — and then we hit the road.

Fine service obviously is a key part of fine dining.  Anyone who has received good service and bad service knows how important the service element can be.  As Kish pointed out after we left, bad service leaves you feeling both unappreciated and tense — which isn’t exactly conducive to a stellar food experience.  You end up anxiously searching for your waitperson and trying to signal them rather than focusing on good food and good company, which is what should be happening.

I can understand how it might take a while before a restaurant gets its sea legs on service, and I’m willing to give any restaurant that serves such good food a second chance, and probably a third chance, too.  Maybe we just went on a bad night, or drew a waitperson who is inexperienced.  But how long does a grace period reasonably last?  If you believe that service is important, shouldn’t that be something that is a point of emphasis from the very first days of training and through the dry runs and soft openings?

Flying Through A Time Warp

On this morning’s flight, the snack distributed with your beverage order was a little bag of . . . Lorna Doone cookies. Seriously . . . Lorna Doones! I felt like checking to see if I had mysteriously appeared in an episode of The Ozzie and Harriet Show.

What other snack from the ’50s and ’60s might make an appearance on a plane flight into the past? Bonomo’s Turkish Taffy? Fig Newtons? Dots? Ruffles Potato Chips? Homemade Chex mix? A Swanson’s Swiss Steak TV dinner?

Plus-Sizing America

People come in all sizes, large and small.  And in these days of increasing obesity among Americans, the range seems to be shifting toward the “plus-sized” end of the spectrum.

So, what’s a business that deals with seating any customers who might walk in — like a restaurant — to do to account for that fact?

merlin_151790223_3ada2026-fba6-48d7-9782-0ac8b26447bf-articlelargeThis year the New York Times ran an interesting article about the challenges that “plus-sized” diners face when they go out to eat.  They not only feel judged by restaurant staff and other patrons about what they are ordering in view of their weight, they also struggle to find places where they can comfortably sit for a meal.  Depending upon a diner’s size, booths may be impossible for them to squeeze into, and bar stools may be too narrow and shallow to provide a viable seating option.  And places where the tables are positioned closely together may put larger diners in the position of intruding into the personal space of a neighboring table.

Those of us who aren’t in the plus-sized category don’t pay attention to such issues, because standard seating options are perfectly suitable for us.  But for the large people among us, such options may be so painfully confining that they interfere with the enjoyment of the meal — and some options may be physically impossible to use, period.

It’s an example of the challenges that are arising from the plus-sizing of a significant chunk of America’s population.  People who are XXXLers are going to want to go out to eat like everybody else, and they are going to want to find places that can appropriately seat diners their size.  If restaurants want their paying business, they are going to need to come up with ways to comfortably accommodate such patrons — without calling undue attention to the effort.

Foodie Calls

Two recent surveys have identified what is being depicted as a “new trend” on the dating scene:  the “foodie call.”  It happens when one person goes out with another person that they really aren’t that interested in — just to get a free meal.

foodie-call-istock-fudfoto-696x392The two surveys of heterosexual women were conducted by Azusa Pacific University and the University of California-Merced, and the results were published in the journal of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.  The participants were asked questions about their personalities, the views on gender roles, and their views, and personal histories, with “foodie calls.”  In one survey, one third of the respondents admitted to going out on a date just to get a free meal, and in the second survey 23 percent of the study group admitted to a “foodie call.”  The research also found that the majority of respondents were aghast at the concept of a “foodie call” and believed it to be moderately to extremely unacceptable.

What are we to make of “foodie calls”?  Speaking as someone who enjoys a good meal from time to time, I don’t think being motivated, in whole or in part, to go out on a date to get a good meal is incredibly egregious behavior.  I also think, however, that people who go on “foodie calls” might be selling themselves short, and I wonder if they ultimately find the meals very satisfying.  Spending two or three hours with somebody you really have no interest in and making cheery chit-chat that entire time would be exhausting, and is a pretty high price to pay for some fine dining.  Meals are supposed to be a pleasant, shared experience, and having to work hard to maintain a conversation would tend to interfere with your enjoyment of the cuisine.

As for the guys who’ve paid for the “foodie calls” — well, if the person you’ve asked out starts negotiating with you about the only restaurants that would be acceptable destinations for the date, you might just want to be on guard.