Downtown Dog

IMG_6541When I took Kasey for a walk to the office today I figured that downtown wouldn’t be a very interesting place for a dog, but of course I was wrong.  There are a number of people who live in downtown Columbus, and many of them enjoy the company of Man’s Best Friend.  We encountered a number of these downtown dogs on our walk today — and there is only one thing more interesting to dogs than other dogs.

That one thing, of course, is food — and there too Kasey hit a home run on today’s little adventure, because the Columbus Food Truck Festival is still going on.  That meant there were lots of interesting little splots and spills on the sidewalks that required close and thorough olfactory inspection and a random nibble or two.

Interestingly, Kasey really liked frolicking on the Ohio Statehouse grounds.  Maybe she just likes the smell of politicians.

Umami Bites And The Food Truck Festival

The Columbus Food Truck Festival, which started at noon today at the Columbus Commons and will continue through 6 p.m. Sunday, exists for one reason and one reason only:  to allow people like me to discover, once again, how many great food trucks are patrolling the world out there.  Today, the happy discovery was of Umami Bites.

IMG_6463The Origamist, the Brussels Sprouts Addict, and I walked down to the Commons on an absolutely perfect day.  We arrived at about 12:15, and the Festival was already packed, with long lines in front of many of the food trucks.  We strolled around, looking for something new that we hadn’t tried before, and found Umami Bites at the end of one of the food truck rows.  (To make this post as educational as possible, I should note that the Umami Bites truck explained that “umami” is one of the five basic tastes, along with sweet, sour, salty, and bitter, and means “pleasantly savory.”  The Origamist and I were drawn by the pork belly wonton tacos; the BSA, predictable and misguided soul that he is, locked on to the flash-fried Brussels Sprouts.

Umami Bites is well named, because the pork belly wonton tacos were fantastic.  In fact, they were so good that you wonder why someone didn’t invent them, say, during the Middle Ages.  It’s one of those dishes that somehow combines the best of different cultures and cuisines, with the hearty pork belly liberally doused in a sweet chili sauce, some freshly chopped pickled red onion adding some tang, and the taco shell made of the whatever the heck wontons are made of, which gave the tacos a delicious and very satisfying crunch.  Just thinking about them makes me wish I had another serving right now.  I mean, right now!

IMG_6462I have to admit that the BSA’s offering looked pretty good too, with a neat presentation that featured chopsticks and a quasi-Chinese carry-out container.  It was hard to tell, however, because the BSA consumed the dish so quickly that the chopsticks rubbing together risked becoming a fire hazard.  And it was fun sitting out on the Commons grounds with my friends, enjoying the sunshine and the passing crowds and then graciously yielding our seats to other diners in a show of basic Midwestern friendliness.

This is the fifth year of the Columbus Food Truck Festival, and it gets better every year.  Bigger, too, I think — there’s actually another part of it, across Third Street, with an entire parking lot filled with more fantastic food truck fare.  If you’re in Columbus this weekend and have a hankering for some adventurous grub, do yourself a favor and stop by.

Mixing Bowl Asian Grill

IMG_2861At the Columbus Food Truck Festival yesterday, the four of us looked long and hard at the dozens of food truck options.  Finally, we settled on the Mixing Bowl Asian Grill.  It’s a testament to the food this place offers that a committed meat-eater (me), a vegetarian (the Rising Star), a person who boasts incessantly about her California excursions and California cuisine (the Origamist), and a person committed to eating a taco at all costs (the Investor) were able to agree on a single food truck.

The MBAG was a good choice on two levels.  First and foremost, the food was great.  Second, the MBAG had a two-person bowl-building operation underway that caused its waiting line to be the fastest moving line at the Food Truck Festival, which is incredibly important if you are really, really hungry and can’t bear to smell the mouth-watering scents for one more second. 

IMG_2863The MBAG follows a customer choice approach that appeals to me.  You figure out whether you want a rice bowl, a noodle bowl, a salad bowl, a burrito, or a taco.  Then you order your protein, hot toppings, cold toppings, sauces, and crunch from a menu that offers multiple choices.  I got a rice noodle bowl with grilled chicken (including the “extra protein” option), sauteed bean sprouts, egg, some daikon and carrot slaw, and ginger soy vinaigrette sauce.  One window starts the creation process and the other finishes it and rings you up.  Prices are reasonable (the basic chicken noodle bowl is only $8, and the extra protein is an additional $3), as shown by the fact that the MBAG would have charged only $1 for bottled water where the Columbus Commons folks were charging $3. 

The resulting noodle bowl was excellent, with just the right combination of heat, coolness, and crunch.  I used chopsticks to eat every morsel, and even when looking longingly at the empty bowl felt a certain pride at my role in its creation.  The Rising Star got some appalling tofu-oriented noodle bowl, the Origamist got a noodle bowl that included kimchi with a spicy kick that made her yearn for a beverage, and the Investor got, well, a taco.  The MBAG somehow satisfied us all, and that is what Food Truck Summer is all about.

Columbus Food Truck Festival, 2014

IMG_2878What’s Food Truck Summer without a trip to the Columbus Food Truck Festival?  That cornucopia of local food entrepreneurs and tasty grub is this today and tomorrow at the Columbus Commons.  The Origamist, the Rising Star, and the Investor and I decided to leg it over there for lunch today and check out the offerings.

It was a beautiful day, weatherwise — bright sunshine, blue sky, and temperatures topping out in the mid-70s — but it was an even more beautiful day for foodies.  I’m not sure how many dozens of food trucks were there, but it was enough to make choosing what to get almost impossible.  Ultimately we made our selection, which I’ll talk about tomorrow, but in the meantime we couldn’t help but be impressed at the number, and cuisine diversity, of Columbus food trucks peddling their wares.  BBQ, Asian, tacos, Greek, colossal sausages, noodle bowls, high-end grilled cheese, and just about every other kind of food you can think of is there, waiting to be wolfed down on the grassy plain just south of the center of downtown.  It’s a nice setting, and at today’s lunch hour it drew a big crowd.

IMG_2883It was, perhaps, unexpectedly big, because there weren’t enough tables and chairs to go around.  We ended up using an empty water stand as an ersatz table, and as we walked around we saw people perched on little chairs intended for toddlers.  We managed, but for some of the dishes being sold you really need to be able to sit down and dig in.  Next year, maybe the Festival organizers could put a row of picnic tables or two on the Commons?  It would make eating a noodle bowl with chopsticks a more feasible.

Two other items of constructive criticism.  First, all beverages have to be purchased from the city of Columbus beverage stands, and the price for a bottle of water is set at gouging levels — $3 a bottle.  $3 for bottled water?!?  That’s bogus, and self-defeating.  If you want people to enjoy the great food truck culture in Columbus, or to frequent the Commons for other events, price the water (and beer, which I think was $6 a bottle) at more reasonable levels. 

Second, crank down the volume on the music acts to a lower decibel level.  It’s nice to have music and it contributes to a fun and festive atmosphere, but I think most people are there with friends or colleagues and would like to have a conversation over lunch without having to raise their voices.

All in all, though, a very nice and well-attended event that confirmed, again, that Columbus is really starting to get there as a big city.  I’d encourage anybody interested in getting a taste (pun intended) of the Capital City food truck world to drop by tomorrow and check it out.  Just be sure to bring your own bottle of water!

Hangin’ At The Columbus Food Truck Festival

IMG_1353Food truck aficionados, take note!  Today and tomorrow, from noon to 10 p.m., you can sample the wares of dozens of food trucks — and enjoy some beer and good music and browse through local craft tents, besides — down at the Columbus Commons.  It’s the weekend of the Columbus Food Truck Festival, and there’s a broad range of trucks operated by some of the passionate folks who are making Columbus’ food truck culture one of the city’s greatest features.

When I visited the Festival tonight, the crowd was just starting to roll in.  I got the sense that we disturbed a woman in a bikini who, amazingly, was sunbathing in the middle of one of the lawns.  Really?  Sunbathing in the middle of a civic event?  Weird, perhaps . . . but it just seemed to make the Festival a bit more quirky, and that’s not a bad thing.

I love the development of community events, like the Food Truck Festival, that you can now find almost every weekend in Columbus if you’re inclined to get out with your neighbors and friends.  It helps to make Columbus an even better place to live.  Stop by and nosh if you have a chance.