The Random Restaurant Tour — XLIV

When it comes to burgers, size really does matter. Dainty patties and delicate presentation aren’t really what the burger aficionado is looking for. No, the true burger fan wants a burger that is a colossal handful, groaning with high quality beef and melted cheese, so huge you struggle to finish it all even as you are relishing every last morsel.

On this crucial burger threshold, Alley Burger–the new restaurant at the corner of Lynn and Pearl Alleys in downtown Columbus, just around the corner from the venerable Ringside–passes with flying colors. When the B.A. Jersey Girl, the Church Singer, and I darted into Alley Burger on a cold and rainy day last week, we found a place that definitely doesn’t scrimp on the burgers. In fact, all of our sandwiches were so large that they were held together by huge and very sharp steak knives that looked like they belonged in a Rambo movie. The presence of these mercenary-style knives on our plates definitely encouraged civility in our lunchtime conversation, and should cause any visitor to Alley Burger to choose their lunch companions with care and avoid heated political discussions during their meals.

I ordered a double cheeseburger that was so highly stacked that, after one bite, I realized it could not be eaten by hand without risking massive suit and shirt staining, so the steak knife came in handy as I chopped the double up for a more genteel approach to consumption. The burger, made with Alley Burger’s own sauce, was excellent, and I finished it all The meal also came with free tortilla chips, with another fine sauce made in house, and a reasonable order of french fries. I stuck with water, which is my lunchtime drink of choice, but Alley Burger also offers a variety of slushies, and the proprietors are looking to secure their liquor license, too.

The Alley Burger location has been a kind of revolving door for restaurants during the time I’ve worked in downtown Columbus, and that rear wall that is now painted with the Alley Burger name has sported the names of many other restaurants gone by. I’m hoping that, unlike its many predecessors, Alley Burger sticks around for a while.

Ranking Easter Basket Candy

Happy Easter to those who follow the Christian faith, and Chag Pesach Sameach to my Jewish friends who are celebrating Passover.

For many of us whose families celebrated Easter, there are happy childhood memories associated with finding Easter baskets and getting a chance to dig into a treasure trove of candy, at just about the time that the Halloween and Christmas sugar rush had fully worn off. In our house, the Easter basket routine involved the thrill of the hunt for your basket and then the enjoyment of the candy. But of course, not all candies are created equal. The other day the B.A. Jersey Girl and I discussed Easter candy and our personal favorites as we returned from lunch–which caused me to compile this ranking, in inverse order, of the candy I would find in my Easter basket.

11. Circus peanut chicks and bunnies — One year the Easter bunny put chick- and bunny-shaped candies in our baskets that were made of the same mysterious substance as circus peanuts, and just like circus peanuts, they were disgusting–stiff, chewy, with that weird circus peanut shell and gummy, slightly stale-tasting interior. This revolting development simply demonstrated that the Easter bunny was fallible. Fortunately, the Easter bunny noticed our collective negative reaction to this ill-fated experiment, and the circus peanut candies were never again to find their way into our baskets.

10. Large jelly bean eggs — As this list will demonstrate, I was not a fan of jelly beans in the Easter basket, but the worst jelly bean-related candy was large jelly bean eggs. These had a kind of thick, coarse, granular shell of sugar and then a gluey, stick-to-your-teeth interior. I would try one of these to see if they had improved from the year before–which never happened, incidentally–and then would try to work out a trade of the remaining large jelly bean eggs with one of my younger, credulous sisters.

9. Regular jelly beans — I ranked regular jelly beans ahead of the large jelly bean eggs because at least they were smaller. In our baskets, the jelly beans would get snarled in the fake plastic grass, and it took time to find all of them and put them into the trading pile. The jelly beans were a throw in, designed to entice my younger sisters with visions of quantity over quality. Some years they actually fell for it.

8. Plastic eggs with jelly beans — Our baskets usually featured a few brightly colored plastic eggs. You suspected they were filled with jelly beans, but you were never quite sure, and could hold out hope for some other form of candy until you had wrestled the eggs open and sent the jelly beans inside flying everywhere. Then you knew, of course, but I rate the plastic eggs with jelly beans higher than other jelly bean offerings because of that faint glimmer of hope that existed before the eggs were opened.

7. Fancy decorated chocolate eggs — On some Easters, our baskets would include a fancy hollow chocolate egg that was decorated with little flowers and ribbons. The flowers and ribbons were made of the same impenetrable, tooth-breaking candy that you could buy at the grocery store in number form to put on a birthday cakes. The problem with these eggs is that they were impossible to eat without creating a mess. If you bit into the egg, all structural integrity was lost and the egg broke into pieces, and then you’d have to pick up and eat the pieces, with the hard candy attached, and end up smeared with chocolate and a mouthful of chocolate and that unchewable hard candy. These often were trade fodder, too, in hopes that my younger sisters would be tempted by the gay decorations without thinking through the inevitable ramifications.

6. Foil-wrapped chocolate eggs — Finally, we’re starting to get to the good stuff. These little chocolate eggs provided a nice little wad of chocolate and a pleasant sugar rush, but the foil wrapping was the big problem. Foil wrapping simply is not designed for chubby fingers eager to get to the chocolate inside. Every year, you would bite into one of the little eggs only to realize that a shard of foil remained on the surface, and when the foil made contact with your teeth an extreme jolt of pain shot through your mouth. The foil-wrapped eggs were an effective way of forcing frantic kids to take their time and pay careful attention to detail, lest they suffer the excruciating consequences.

5. Chocolate bunny — No Easter basket would be complete without a chocolate bunny. Some years, our bunnies would be solid, and some years they were hollow. I preferred the hollow version, because it was easier to take off the ears with one large chomp, but either form was eagerly consumed. I didn’t even mind the small hard candy eye.

4. Peeps — Our baskets always included the bright yellow chick peeps, and occasionally would have pink rabbit peeps. Usually, we would get one peep. Peeps were great because you only got them at Easter. Unlike chocolate candies, you didn’t eat peeps at the movie theater or at Halloween or Christmas, so when you found them in your Easter basket you’d kind of forgotten about them and how they tasted. And then when you bit through the stiff outer shell into the softness beneath, you remembered. Few things taste as good as a bright yellow peep on a clear spring morning.

3. Chocolate covered cream or peanut butter egg — These came in an easy to open wrapper, like a regular candy bar, and had a flat appearance with a ridged chocolate covering. The cream version had a runny, sugary interior that looked like an egg yolk, and the peanut butter version had a stiffer, more granular peanut butter than was found in the household Skippy jar. It was a good Easter indeed if you could trade dozens of jelly beans and the jelly bean eggs with one of your sisters in exchange for one of these delicious treats.

2. Chocolate marshmallow egg — We’re now getting to the point pf true favorites, where it’s almost impossible to rank one above another–but difficult decisions must be made. The chocolate marshmallow eggs were like the cream or peanut butter eggs, but what nudged them into second place on the list is the quality of the marshmallow–which wasn’t like the marshmallow cylinder you’d put on a stick to roast in a campfire. No, this marshmallow was creamier, and sweeter, and delectable. When you got one of these chocolate marshmallow eggs, you knew intuitively you were enjoying some very high-end stuff.

And, number 1 is:

Speckled robin-sized malted milk eggs — These were my all-time favorite. The brittle shell outer shell, the thin coating of chocolate just underneath, and the crunchy malted milk interior that would melt in your mouth if you could resist chewing it up–this candy was the stuff of which childhood dreams were made. Back in the day, I probably could have eaten my weight in these little egg-shaped goodies. Much as I liked the marshmallow eggs, it is impossible not to put the malted milk eggs at the top of the Easter candy list.

I haven’t had any of these candies for decades, and it wouldn’t be good for my waistline to have any of them now, but it is fun to think about them and remember the simple pleasures of an Easter basket.

The Cross-Species Lure Of A Good Doughnut

Everyone knows that doughnuts are an irresistible food for human beings. Now there is evidence that the appeal of those ever-tempting, soft, sinfully sugary pastries isn’t limited to homo sapiens.

In LaBelle, Florida, a man and his horse have become regulars at the local Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru line. Once a week, David Bosselait and his mount, Jackson, make a 12-mile round trip from their home to the doughnut emporium so Bosselait can get his cup of coffee and Jackson can enjoy his standard order: a plain doughnut hole. Jackson also gets a lot of love and attention from the Dunkin’ Donuts employees when he visits.

Bosselait says the weekly visits to the doughnut shop have had a positive impact on the horse, who is getting used to being around cars and staying “focused.” I’m not sure that introducing anyone–or any horse–to the wonders of doughnuts can really be described as a positive thing, because once you’ve enjoyed a doughnut you can never go back. Jackson may be getting better in traffic because his real “focus” is on getting that scrumptious doughnut hole every week.

The Random Restaurant Tour–XLIII

I am loyal to restaurants. When I find a place I like, and a dish I like, I will frequent the venue again and again. That has been the case for Indian Oven, my go-to Indian restaurant in Columbus, for nearly two decades.

So when Dr. Science and the GV Jogger suggested that Kish and I join them last night at Rooh, an Indian restaurant in the Short North, I was struck with pangs of guilt. But Dr. Science can be persistent and persuasive, and I enjoy trying new places, so I swallowed my unease. Billing itself as a “gastronomical journey in progressive Indian cuisine,” Rooh offers a wide range of dishes, some of which are decidedly unconventional. The menu is most intriguing. Whoever heard of an Indian dish that involved Monterey Jack cheese, which is part of the Kerala fried chicken small plate?

Our party opted for a few small plates and large plates that we could share. I focused on the Amritsari Shrimp, which was crispy and crunchy and served with a great chili mayo, and the Lamb Dum Biryani. The biryani was well presented in a small kettle as shown above and was topped with cashews. It also came with a bowl of boondi raita, a mild yogurt that was intended to cut the heat level if the diner found the biryani to be too spicy. I like spicy food, so the biryani wasn’t too fiery for my palate, but the boondi raita was such a perfect complement to my dish that I promptly spooned it onto my plate and mixed it in with the biryani. It was excellent. My food was so good that it raised a common problem at “plates to share” venues: I had to struggle internally not to be overtly territorial when others in the party wanted to dig in to my biryani and boondi raita.

I was able to withstand my strong feelings of Indian Oven guilt and enjoyed my food specifically and our visit to Rooh generally. Columbus is big enough and diverse enough to support multiple Indian restaurants, and I would definitely return to Rooh when I want to try a unique twist on traditional Indian fare. One of these days, I’m going to have to experience firsthand how Monterey Jack cheese fits into progressive Indian cuisine.

Jelly Analysis

We had St. Patrick’s Day-themed doughnuts at the office today. They looked very tempting—particularly the filled doughnuts. But filled doughnuts in a communal box present a real quandary: how do you ensure that you aren’t getting a dreaded jelly-filled doughnut?

Jelly is the Titanic of doughnut fillings. Whipped cream and custard are great, but jelly makes the filled doughnut risk-reward analysis truly daunting. No one likes it or wants it, but usually there is at least one jelly doughnut in every assortment, lurking and ready to hurl the unlucky into the pits of despair and, in most instances, a jelly-squirted stain on their shirt or blouse. Rational people therefore will do whatever they can to avoid one, but in a communal box it’s tough. Picking up a doughnut for careful examination of telltale jelly signs isn’t really encouraged at the tail end of a pandemic.

This morning, another wary lawyer and I decided to address the jelly analysis issues by securing a knife and making a dainty cut just sufficient to allow accurate identification of the filling—which fortunately was whipped cream. Armed with that knowledge and satisfied that we were not courting disaster, we made our selections.

Our kitchen later confirmed that they had specifically avoided ordering any jelly doughnuts. It’s just another reason why our kitchen staff is great.

New Frontiers In Snacking

If you want to gain insight on the important question of where the country is headed on the snacking front, head to an airport and find one of those concourse stores that sell just about anything. You’ll discover floor-to-ceiling racks of snacks. And if you’re like me, you’ll see snacks that are beyond your wildest imagining.

Clearly, chickpeas are hot, and are available in just about any form. The Phoenix airport store has a stand-alone rotating rack of puffed chickpeas, as shown below, as well as dried and salted chickpeas and chickpea chips. Plantain chips have moved from Cuban restaurant plates to the snack rack, and there are various kinds of crisps, pieces, and chips made from a smorgasbord of ingredients. Different kinds of jerky—including fruit jerky—also seems to be popular.

The weirdest snack in the store, shown at the bottom of the photo above, was chicken-flavored protein chips. Chicken-flavored? According to the packaging, the chips are made entirely from “100% natural chicken breast and tapioca starch” and are flavored with “Himalayan pink salt.”

Uh . . . Yum?

Harvey And His Duds

When I was a kid, Milk Duds were my favorite movie theater candy, without a doubt. I would buy a box and then, as the movie played, put those little chocolate-covered caramel nuggets on my tongue one by one and let them dissolve slowly until nothing remained. With proper discipline and the intestinal fortitude to resist chewing, you could make a box of Milk Duds last for the whole film, in contrast to people who bought a candy bar that was long since gone by the time the credits rolled.

At some point, though, I outgrew the Milk Duds. However, Harvey Weinstein, the disgraced Hollywood mogul who has been convicted of crimes in New York and is awaiting trial on charges of rape and sexual assault in California, apparently still can’t resist them. Weinstein got into trouble with his jailers in November because he was found to be in possession of smuggled contraband Milk Duds. Jail officials in Los Angeles believe that the candy was passed to Weinstein as he met with his attorneys to prepare for an upcoming trial.

Weinstein initially claimed that he had brought the Milk Duds with him when he came from New York to California in July, which would mean he made a single box of Milk Duds last from July to November–which is a heck of a lot longer than the length of one movie. Jail officials reject that claim because Weinstein was thoroughly searched at that time and found to be Dud-free. It also seems to be directly contrary to Weinstein’s reported history of egregious self-indulgence and doing whatever he wanted to whomever he wanted.

I imagine the manufacturer of Milk Duds isn’t exactly thrilled that this classic movie candy is now associated with Harvey Weinstein, I know I’ll never look at a box of Milk Duds in the same way again.

The Newest Airline Snack

On yesterday’s plane flight I received a new kind of in-flight snack with my water. The days when passengers would invariably receive a tiny foil packet of peanuts or pretzels are long gone. These days, in their zeal to be seen as cutting edge, airlines are experimenting with new snacks . . . which is how I ended up with this packet of “Love Corn.”

To be honest, I didn’t want the “Love Corn.” I typically don’t accept the airplane snack, if there is a reasonable chance to decline it. But in this case the flight attendant had dropped off the snack in a rush, and the only way I was going to get her to retrieve it would have been to call out, for all to hear: “I don’t want any Love Corn.” Not surprisingly, I hesitated, and then thought better of it. For similarly obvious reasons, I didn’t turn to the woman sitting next to me and ask if she would like to have my “Love Corn,” either.

It seems like a baseline requirement of an airline snack should be something that you can easily refer to in communications with flight attendants or fellow passengers without risking a misunderstanding. From my perspective, at least, “Love Corn” pushes the envelope there.

For the record, this particular snack, which is advertised on the package as gluten-free and vegan, consisted of salty, dried kernels of corn that were very noisy to eat. I tried one and decided I would let the rest of the “Love Corn” quietly stay in the field.

On The JT’s Rave Train

JT’s Pizza and Pub has done it again. The premier Columbus-area pizza emporium and sports bar, located in Linworth, has received another rave, this time from Jim Ellison of Columbus Underground.

As Mr. Ellison explains in the article linked above, he treats pizza as a serious culinary experience. In fact, his wife and son basically demand nothing less. And his approach to pizza analysis is intriguing. He thinks it is important to use a tried and true standard as the starting point for evaluation:

“The standard order for evaluating a new pizza place is large pizza, half pepperoni and half cheese. This is Columbus so the need to evaluate the quality, quantity and pairing of pepperoni with the rest of the pizza is critical. For any pizza, regardless of style, location, philosophy, etc., it is important to be able to try it plain sans toppings. A cheese pizza without any other ingredients – lets me evaluate the base pie without anything else to interfere in my assessment. A plain cheese pizza has nothing it can hide behind.”

This rational approach to comparative pizza analysis makes a lot of sense to me, as does the Ellison clan’s focus on the crust, which I think is a crucial element of any excellent pizza. And I’m happy to report that JT’s passed the Ellison family acid test with flying colors. You can read Mr. Ellison’s detailed analysis of JT’s offerings–as well as an interview of proprietor (and my nephew) Joe Hartnett and a shout out to my brother-in-law, the namesake of JT’s legendary Big Al pizza–at the link above. Congratulations, JT’s!

The Science Of “Hangover Cures”

Here’s some useful information to keep in mind as we head into the weekend: according to a study published in the journal Addiction, researchers have concluded that that there is no convincing scientific evidence that hangover cures actually work— so plan your activities accordingly.

Everyone who has ever overindulged, or knows someone who did, has heard of one purported “hangover cure” or another. One of my college friends swore that chewing and then swallowing multiple dry Excedrin tablets, without water, was a sure-fire remedy; another touted the consumption of a platter of french fries covered with rich brown gravy to soak up and counteract the evil alcoholic juices still working in the stomach. Other claimed remedies of my college days involved concoctions made with raw eggs, hot sauce, and other random ingredients that you would never consume if you weren’t desperately dealing with a pounding headache, cotton mouth, sour stomach, and generally impaired senses caused by your foolish activities of the night before. And, of course, some inveterate partiers simply turned to the hair of the dog that bit them.

Scientists, being scientists, recognize that hangovers aren’t pleasant. The lead author of the study, Dr. Emmert Roberts, says, with admirable, clinical understatement: “Hangover symptoms can cause significant distress and affect people’s employment and academic performance.” So the researchers looked at studies of items like clove extract, red ginseng, Korean pear juice, artichoke extract, prickly pear, and other claimed hangover cures. They found that the studies either didn’t show statistically significant improvements in hangover symptoms or, if they did show such results, involved various kinds of methodological limitations or imprecise measurements. And the results of the studies haven’t been independently replicated, either.

But take heart! Scientists recognize that hangovers suck, and that remedies deserve more careful and rigorous study. Until that happens, though, Dr. Roberts offers this advice: “For now, the surest way of preventing hangover symptoms is to abstain from alcohol or drink in moderation.” And if you just can’t follow his advice this weekend, be sure to drink lots of water and have a bottle of Excedrin and some french fries and gravy on hand, just in case.

Proof Of Flakes

My fundamental weakness when it comes to Frosted Flakes is well known. So well known, in fact, that my friends have now gotten into the regrettable habit of buying me boxes of the delectable sugary concoction, knowing that I will be unable to resist spooning down bowl after bowl. One of our friends presented me with a box in February 2020, right before our last pre-pandemic dinner party, and last month the B.A. Jersey Girl doubled down on this cruel-humored practice by giving me the above “large size” box of Frosted Flakes, gift wrapped, in front of a group of colleagues at a holiday party.

I don’t really make New Year’s resolutions, but for 2022 I am determined not to crumble in the face of Tony the Tiger Temptation. I notice that this particular box of Frosted Flakes (designated box KLB 019 14:56) has a “best if used by” date of September 24, 2022. (Who knew, incidentally, that Frosted Flakes has a de facto expiration date? It’s never been an issue, as whenever I’ve bought them before they’ve been totally and shamefully eaten within a day or two.)

Can I make it until September 24, 2022 without opening and eating the 19.2 ounces of sugar-coated corn flakes, thereby receiving 8 vitamins and minerals? I’m going to try, and to demonstrate my continuing resolve I’ll periodically post “proof of flakes” photos of the unopened box against future news backdrops, much like kidnappers provide “proof of life” photos of their victims with a daily newspaper.

And if, against all odds, I make it to September 24, 2022? Why, I’ll celebrate my commitment by eating the cereal, of course! Some things are just too good to waste.

Banana Ketchup And West Indian Hot Sauce

If you go down to the beachfront restaurant at Ti Kaye, you’ll find three condiments: regular tomato ketchup, banana ketchup, and West Indian hot sauce.

Banana ketchup, you say? I’m not a fan of regular ketchup, but banana ketchup sounded so tantalizing I had to try it. And since I’m always on the prowl for some good hot sauce, the West Indian hot sauce is right up my alley.

The banana ketchup and the hot sauce have almost exactly the same color, as shown in the bottles above and on the plate below, where you can see the banana ketchup on the lower left and the hot sauce on the upper right, bracketing my conch fritters. The banana ketchup is pretty good. It’s very mild and sweeter (and a lot less acidic) than tomato ketchup, and a nice complement to french fries. I’m a bit surprised that banana ketchup hasn’t made inroads in America–at least, not yet.

The West Indian hot sauce is a killer. It’s chunkier than the ketchup–with the chunks no doubt bringing the heat–and it’s got a lot of flavor, with a spice level that creeps up on you, and some of that fine, post-consumption lip burn that hot sauce aficionados crave. I’ve used it on regular french fried, sweet potato fries, conch fritters, and saltfish accras, and it hasn’t disappointed in any combination.

They say that part of the joy of travel is the thrill of discovery. I’m glad I discovered banana ketchup and West Indian hot sauce on this trip.

A Wing Thing

I’m pleased to report that JT’s Pizza continues to garner accolades for its food, beer selection, live music, and general ambiance. The latest recognition is an article recognizing JT’s as one of the nine best places for chicken wings in Ohio.

Why nine places, rather than ten? What criteria were used to compile the honorees? Beats me! But I think there is no doubt that JT’s belongs on the list, because its wings really are terrific–meaty, well-seasoned, available in different flavors and heat levels, and the perfect complement to a cold brew while you are cheering on your favorite sports team. The wings are one of the reasons JT’s has become the go-to spot for many foodies and sports fans in the Columbus area.

Our Sunset Cruise

Yesterday afternoon we took a sunset cruise along the west coast of St. Lucia, heading south to the two peaks–the Pitons–that are a kind of trademark of the island (and that are featured on the label of the local beer which is itself named for the mountains). Visitors can climb the peak on the right in the photo above, following a trail that runs up the western slope and, according to one of the locals, is “two hours heading straight up, then two hours heading straight down.” The eastern peak features a sheer escarpment that can only be tackled by dedicated, and well-equipped, rock climbers. Much of the west coast of the island is similarly rugged, with many cliffs along the oceanfront and small fishing villages located in the sea level areas in between.

The crew plied us with very tasty rum punches and we listened to a great reggae music mix as we sailed along. A school of dorsal-finned sea creatures–the crew said they were small whales that were about the size of porpoises–encircled us as we sailed south, frolicking in the waves before turning west to head toward deeper waters. We also saw many flying fish zipping briefly over the surface of the water before diving back in It was a beautiful evening offering just about perfect sunset cruise conditions with clear skies and the temperature around 80, and other boats were on the water, also enjoying the striking sunset colors and the warm surroundings.

The after-sunset in St. Lucia is a pretty sight, too. There’s about a half hour period where the sunset glow lines the rim of the western horizon, providing enough light to see clearly as the sky turns purple above and you head back to the dock. It’s a great time to drain the last dregs of your rum punch, tap your feet to the reggae beat, and look forward to the dinner to come.

The Local Caribbean Beer

Every Caribbean island seems to have its own beer. On St. Lucia, the local brew is called Piton, named for the mountains that dominate the landscape on this rugged volcanic island.

Like most of the Caribbean beers I’ve sampled over the years, Piton is a basic lager. The islanders don’t seem to go much for IPAs, which is fine with me, because IPAs are just too bitter for my taste and really wouldn’t work on a vacation when your brain is on island time. Piton is smooth and light, with a nice flavor, and it goes down easy on a hot sunny day with a serving of conch fritters and a side of french fries. Piton is so drinkable, in fact, that it is hard to come away from the lunch table without having quaffed at least two of them.

To my knowledge, you can’t get Piton in Columbus or anywhere in the Midwest. Even if you could, I’m not sure I would want to, because Caribbean beers are very much a sensory experience of the time and place, to be enjoyed when you’re hot and smell faintly of suntan lotion and you’re wearing sandals and looking out over blue water with white boats and swimmers and snorkelers in the distance. I’m not sure how I would react to a Piton if the view out the window was of a gloomy winter scene. I’d rather reserve this fine beer for consumption in its native habitat.