The Random Restaurant Tour (XIX)

Sometimes, you only need to look at a menu to determine whether a place is likely to be good, or bad.  When it comes to a BBQ joint, you’re looking for a menu that is brief, and preferably written on the wall rather than on laminated menus that are handed out to patrons.  That’s because, if you’re turning out the highest quality barbecue, it’s got to be the exclusive focus of your efforts.  You can’t be wasting time worrying about creating new salads, special soups, or other, lesser items.

Yesterday we ventured out of the downtown area to try the offerings of Smoked on High.  I’d heard about SoH from several friends and the word of mouth was very strong, so when the Red Sox Fan suggested yesterday that we give it a shot I was all for it.  We drove, because it was pelting down rain — a daily occurrence this August — and SoH is located just south of downtown on High Street, in a converted house located on the border between German Village and the Brewery District.

SoH passed the BBQ menu test with flying colors.  According to the options posted on the wall on the entrance to the order area, you can choose from brisket, pork, chicken, or ribs, a handful of sides, and three sauce options.  Oh, and yesterday chili was available as a special.  It was a visible demonstration of commitment to barbecue, and nothing but.

Of course, I went for the brisket sandwich, with mac n’ cheese and cornbread as sides.  When I ordered the brisket the cook pulled a virgin slab out of the oven, glistening with a great char, and sliced it up for my sandwich.  I was given my food, had decided to try the spicy and mustard and vinegar sauces, had paid for the combo, and was headed to my seat in a few seconds.  The speed was appreciated, because after looking at the meat I was definitely eager to dig in.

The sandwich was terrific — the meat was awesome, and the Red Sox Fan aptly noted that the bun was appropriately substantial to hold up against the weight of the meat piled on it — and the mac n’ cheese and cornbread were delectable, too.  Although it was a very close call, I decided I prefer the mustard and vinegar sauce.

Smoked on High is a short drive from downtown, but it’s also just a short walk from our house in German Village.  I’m pretty sure I’m going to become a regular.

Beer King

IMG_0589Tonight we had a firm event at a bowling alley.  It was fun, but I noticed a number of the people in our group daintily sipping wine.

Wine?  Seriously?  At a bowling alley?  That’s like wearing black patent leather shoes with a brown suit, or using a cigarette holder to stay away from some unbrand smokes.  No, I’m sorry . . . bowling mandates a few beers.  That’s what I had, and it made me feel like the Bavarian beer monarch — I think it might be Gambrinus — who graces one of the streets of the nearby Brewery District in Columbus.  Even in America, with its rich tradition of monarchial opposition, could get behind a rosy-nosed king with a stern yet approving look on his face and a goblet of suds in his hand.

Bowling and beer go together, like mashed potatoes and gravy or grilled cheese and tomato soup.

Aboard The CBUS

Yesterday was one of those hot, muggy days that seem to immediately drain you of energy and leave you coated in sweat at the same time.  We were interested in heading down to the Short North, but walking there would have caused us to melt into the sidewalk.  And driving to the Short North on a Gallery Hop day is a colossal pain.  So, what to do?

Enter the CBUS.

IMG_6855The CBUS is a “circulator” that runs on a continuous loop on High Street and Front Street between German Village and the Brewery District, on one end, and Victorian Village and Italian Village on the other.  Along the way, it has stops at Columbus Commons, the Ohio Statehouse, the Arena District, and the Short North.  And there are no worries about reading a confusing bus schedule, or getting on the number 4 bus when you should be getting on the number 23 bus — the CBUS has different, readily identifiable markings, the CBUS stops are marked with a special circular sign, and the CBUS just goes on the same route all day long.

The CBUS was the perfect option for us — but the only real issue was whether we could overcome our anti-bus mindset.  This sounds like a minor thing, but it really isn’t.  If your vision of a bus is a dirty, beat-up contraption filled with smelly, misbehaving passengers, it’s not going to be your first transportation choice.  But we decided to give the CBUS a chance — and it turned out that our preconceptions about bus travel were all wrong.  (I recognize that the Bus-Riding Conservative will be insufferable after that admission.)

The CBUS is clean, bright, and blissfully air-conditioned.  The upcoming stops were announced verbally and shown on an electronic crawl screen at the front of the bus, so you always knew which stop was upcoming.  Our fellow passengers included couples, families with small kids, and Columbus visitors heading to an event at the Convention Center, which also is along the route.  There are multiple stops along the way, and you can signal the driver when you want to stop by pulling a little cord that runs behind every seat.  And the CBUS is free.  Free!  What could be better than that?

One other thing about the CBUS that the BRC has emphasized:  it runs almost exactly the route that some people have proposed as the route of a street car/light rail system, and it does so at a tiny fraction of the cost — and without ripping up the streets and installing rail lines and paying for the construction and the train cars.

We liked the CBUS so much that, on our ride back home, we talked about how we can use it even more.  I’m guessing that most users of the CBUS have that same reaction.  It  promotes the interaction and flow between core downtown neighborhoods, and it also makes non-bus-riders like us a bit more amenable to potentially using the Central Ohio Transit Authority options to meet our other transportation needs.  That’s the whole idea, I think.  I’m not sure how long the CBUS will be free, but I hope it continues — it’s a great idea and way to introduce the non-BRCs of the world like us to the possibilities and advantages of mass transit.

Shadowbox Live

IMG_2470Part of the concept of Food Truck Summer is to make more of an effort to experience all of the diverse things that Columbus has to offer.  In furtherance of that salutary goal, last night Kish and I joined Mr. and Mrs. JV at Best of Shadowbox Live 2014.

Shadowbox is a local sketch comedy/performance troupe.  Although the group has been performing for 25 years and I’ve lived in Columbus that entire time, I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never seen them before.  Last night, therefore, I was a “virgin” — and the Shadowboxers tend to shout out the presence of virgins to the entire room of patrons.  It’s a small price to pay for getting your first taste of this talented collection of performers.

A few background points about Shadowbox.  It’s in the Brewery District of Columbus, and its got a good performance space.  Parking is cheap (only $3) and readily available.  There’s a bistro section where you can have a drink or order food before or after the performance, and you can also eat in the performance space itself. The food is a cut above what you would expect for a performance venue.  I had a grilled chicken sandwich that was both tasty and reasonably priced.

IMG_2472If you choose to eat in the performance hall, which is what we did, you’ll be waited on by the same folks who will be performing.  So, we ordered our nachos, pastas, and sandwiches from a friendly woman who, a few moments later, was convincingly portraying a teenage skank up on stage.  The performers even wait on you during intermission, and return after the show is over to cash you out.  Needless to say, they really work hard, so if you go, leave a generous tip — they clearly deserve it.

The show itself runs two hours and alternates between sketch comedy and songs performed by a full rock band.  We sat in the section nearest the performers and were so close to the stage that you could feel the bass vibrations through the floor under our feet.  The band occupies one end of the stage and the sketch comedy occurs at the other end, with lighting changes allowing sets to be changed on the darkened part of the stage.  It’s a very quick-moving show, and the amphitheater design of the performance space ensures that there isn’t a bad seat in the house.

The comedy parts of the show were quite good.  I particularly liked the Cold Feet, about a long-married couple’s odd reaction to renewing their vows, Coming Out and Going Home, about a gay guy who finds a surprising reception when he confesses his sexual orientation and another preference upon returning to his parents’ home from college, and Good Driver Discount, about designing properly PC TV commercials for an insurance company.

As good as the comedy was, I thought the music was even better.  The house band really puts out the sound, the staging and costumes are great, and the music pieces showed that the performers had talent to burn.  My favorites were the creepy I Put a Spell On You, sung by a female performer with a fabulous voice, a sultry, incense-burning rendition of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir, which is seen in the picture at the top of this post, and Prince’s Gett Off, which absolutely kicked ass and closed the show with a bang.

One other great thing about going to Shadowbox — you can buy tickets for upcoming shows for a significant discount and get some other freebies.  We bought tickets to a future show and got free tickets to two other events.  We’ll be back.

A Grocery Store in Downtown Columbus (sort of)

More and more people move to downtown Columbus each year, but the area still lacks many amenities essential for sustaining a community, such as grocery stores. After moving downtown, my friends and I quickly learned that the closest place to buy beer in the evening is a Sunoco gas station near the Courthouse building, about ten blocks away.

So when a friend of mine told me there is a Kroger downtown on Front St., I told him he must be mistaken. I looked it up later out of curiosity and learned that my friend was partly right – there is a Kroger on Front St., but it is in the Brewery District just outside the limits of downtown. I walked over there one day to check it out and took some pictures:

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Even though it’s not technically downtown, it’s close enough to provide some support for the downtown community. It’s presence there shows how far the area has come in the past few years.

As you can see, it’s a pretty nice Kroger. It has a much more urban feel than most locations. The brick design of the building is clearly meant to follow the Brewery district style. The inside reminds me of Whole Foods and Giant Eagle, with a large selection of alternative, “organic” foods.

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Downtown residents may have a better option soon. An expansion plan for the Arena District calls for a Giant Eagle to be built close to the North Market. Unfortunately, plans have been postponed because of the recession.