The Keep

23_the_keep_restaurant_bar_columbus__hotel_le_veque-1500x1001Last night Kish and I and Mr. and Mrs. JV had dinner at The Keep, one of Columbus’ newest restaurant options.  It’s located on the mezzanine level of the Hotel LeVeque, smack dab in the middle of downtown Columbus.

Given the name, I thought The Keep might have a medieval castle theme, with a wait staff carrying crossbows or broadswords.  There was no jousting or armor plating visible during our visit, however.  We first had a drink — well, actually two, since none of us were going to be driving home — at The Keep’s bar, which was packed with people and hosting at least two separate holiday parties.  We knew we were in a cutting-edge spot when we learned that the people next to us were both out-of-towners who had arranged their first meeting via Tinder.  The bar offers lots of different cocktail, wine, and beer options, as well as a limited bar food menu.  We skipped the food, since we were going to be eating at the restaurant next door, and enjoyed our drinks and the lively, bustling urban vibe of the place.

The restaurant is a few steps away from the bar.  It is modeled as a modern French brasserie, and — to this uneducated wine fancier, at least — it has a very solid selection of French wines, as well as domestic labels.  Given the brasserie setting, I felt compelled to start my meal with the French onion soup, which was good and served piping hot, without the overload of bread and cheese that you frequently get with that order.  You could actually eat the soup without having to use your spoon to saw through an inch-thick layer of bread and cheese and having the soup splash out of the bowl as a result.   My entree was the Guajillo pork cheeks, served with black-eyed peas, collard greens, and corn nuts.  It was very tasty, too.  As JV observed, the portions are kept to moderate size, so you can be a member of the Clean Plate Club without having to waddle out of the joint, groaning with a mixture of satiation and discomfort.  The reasonable portion size also left room for Kish and me to split a really good dessert consisting of a kind of miniature spicy Bundt cake with ice cream.

The ambiance of The Keep restaurant is appealing and has definite brasserie elements, with a central dining counter area and tables and booths spread around.  One other thing:  as we looked around, we realized that we were by far the oldest folks in the room.  That was true in the bar area, too.  How often are fun-loving 60-year-olds the senior citizens in a downtown restaurant?  Maybe the younger crowd is attracted by the brasserie setting, or the central downtown location, or the prices, which I thought were very reasonable.  In any event, it was nice to know that we oldsters had stumbled upon a hip place where the cool kiddie set hangs out.  We’d go back, if they let us in.

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The Random Restaurant Tour (IX)

Yesterday Kish and I met for lunch. We try to get together for lunch about once a week, where we can eat in peace and talk without an aging dog hoarsely barking at us to give her people food. We try to pick a spot somewhere between home and the office, and we’re always game for something new.

Yesterday we checked out the Blind Lady Tavern on Mound Street. It was a bitterly cold day, with a sharp wind that chilled to the bone. It felt good to finally reach the Blind Lady, which has a warm, welcoming ambiance complete with a cool pressed tin ceiling and a single room shared by the bar and lots of wooden tables.

After my walk through the arctic wind tunnel, I decided to warm up with the fried chicken sandwich and chips. The sandwich was excellent, with fried chicken that was crunchy but moist, with a nice sauce and tasty coating that wasn’t overly breaded. I also want to commend the chips, which looked to be homemade and were crisp and blessedly not over-salted. I left nothing behind. And because I knew I would be venturing back out into the brutal chill, I decided to end the meal with a cup of very good coffee that was served piping hot in a huge cup that was just begging for a shot of cream. All in all, it was a completely satisfying meal. Kish got the blackened fish sandwich with an enormous pile of greens and also said her food was very good.

According to our pleasant waitress, the Blind Lady — the name of which refers to the blindfolded depiction of Justice, in deference to the nearby Franklin County courthouses — has been around for two years, in a building that has housed the Jury Room lounge and other courthouse-related spots. We can attest that it is now a first-rate place to have a beagle-free lunch.

Max Void

The original Max & Erma’s restaurant, a German Village landmark for 45 years, has closed.  It wasn’t killed by lack of traffic or any of the other issues that often put restaurants out of business — it was the building in which Max & Erma’s is located that apparently was the real culprit.

The company that owns the restaurant announced that the building “can no longer maintain the standards our guests deserve,” with one of the principal problems being the lack of an ADA-accessible bathroom.  The company says it had “thoroughly explored available options, but both costs and covenants have proven to be to prohibitive.”  This isn’t surprising for anyone who’s been to that quirky brick building — a building which lent some of the quirkiness to the Max & Erma’s ambiance generally.  It was filled with little nooks and crannies and abrupt turns, and if you had to use the facilities, you had to navigate a narrow flight of steep stairs that took you into the basement.  The original structures in German Village just weren’t built for wheelchairs, walkers, and other devices that are commonplace in modern America.

The closure of the restaurant leaves a kind of weird void on Third Street, because most of the people who live in, or visit, German Village expect to find a bustling Max & Erma’s, where they can get a cheeseburger and a beer and check out the quirky wall decorations.  Forty-five years is a really long time by German Village standards, taking the original M&E’s back to the early days when the rehabbing wave was first washing over the neighborhood.  Two of our friends had their first date at the original M&E’s back in the ’70s and liked to have a meal there when they came to Columbus for a visit.  Now they won’t be able to do so.

We’ll miss the original Max & Erma’s, but German Village being what it is, the inevitable question now is:  what’s going to go into that building now?  With the closing of M&E’s and Caterina, a few blocks closer to downtown, we’ve got vacancies in two prime spots on Third Street.  If the ADA issues can be resolved, we can always use another pub, restaurant, or shop.

 

Four Desserts

IMG_0748Tonight two clients, a colleague and I had a fine dinner at the Ocean Club at Easton.  We were very well taken care of by Tammy, our excellent waitress.  After our main course was over, we decided to give her a test, so we asked her to tell us which four desserts we had decided to order from the eight-item dessert menu.

Tammy was not at all intimidated.  She sized us up, thought for a moment, consulted her inner soothsayer, and correctly predicted Baked Alaska, chocolate peanut butter pie, chocolate cake, and warm butter cake.  It was quite an impressive feat by Tammy the waitress, and after we left I realized I should have asked her to give us some lottery numbers while she was at it.

The desserts were really good, too.

Jazz Dinner Club At The Refectory

Last night we joined our friends the Bahamians for a Jazz Dinner Club event at the Refectory, which is one of Columbus’ finest restaurants.  Although the concept has been around for four years, last night was the first I’ve heard of it — and it was great.  I’m grateful to the Bahamians, who are always on the cutting edge, for suggesting it.

The Jazz Dinner Club is held upstairs, in the “choir loft” at the Refectory, in a room that is normally used for small banquets or private parties.  (In fact, the last time I was there was for a big birthday celebration for Mom many years ago.)  It’s an intimate venue for a musical performance, seating about 45 people.  For $69 you get your ticket and a set four-course meal, with a different menu for every performance.  We then added a four-glass wine flight the Refectory selects from its terrific wine cellar to complement every course for $30.95, to bring the per-person tab to an even $100 for a special evening.

IMG_0696Letting somebody else pick the food and the wine sounds a bit adventurous — and it is.  However, the Refectory food is always exceptional and their wine cellar is among the best in Columbus, and the spirit of experimentation puts you in the right frame of mind for listening to the music of a newly discovered artist.  Last night the Refectory started us off with a very tasty (and complimentary) Kir Royale champagne cocktail, and the food and wines were uniformly excellent.  I was proud that I ate every bit of the green bean and Corsican feta cheese terrine that was the first course (Look, Mom!  I’ve actually consumed green beans!), and I particularly liked the Leoncini ham and mushroom vol au vent (paired with a very fine Solena Grande Cuvee Pinot Noir, 2013) and the caramelized pineapple clafoutis (paired with a delicate Andrew Quady Electra Orange) for dessert.  I’m not a dessert wine fan, but I’d definitely buy a bottle of the Electra Orange, which was light and not overly sweet, for home dinner party purposes.

As fine as the food was, the music was even better.  Last night’s artist was Diego Figueiredo, a solo Brazilian guitarist, who played a wide array of bossas and sambas and traditional Brazilians songs, selections from the American Songbook, and original pieces, with a few classical allusions thrown in.  He was incredibly gifted, and being seated only 20 feet away we were able to appreciate his lightning-like fret fingering, his impeccable timing, his fingernail-focused strumming technique — he doesn’t use a pick, so the fingernails on his right hand are grown out and carefully sculpted to approximate picks — and his exurberant personality.  Mr. Figueroa not only was a brilliant musician, he also was having a lot of fun playing the songs, and the audience had a lot of fun right there with him.  After evening ended, I bought a few of his CDs, which really is the ultimate acid test.

The event ran from 6 to 9, so it fits with the schedules of even the early bird senior citizens among us, and it was top-notch from beginning to end.  I’m sure we’ll be doing the Jazz Dinner Club again, and I’m glad we found another great option that Columbus nightlife has to offer.

Valter’s At The Maennerchor

Last night we checked out the latest restaurant to grace the German Village venue:  Valter’s at the Maennerchor.  It’s a new food option at one of the oldest, most iconic locations in Columbus — the Columbus Maennerchor (German for men’s choir) building.  The Maennerchor itself has been a part of the Columbus arts community since 1848.

IMG_0443It’s not surprising, then, that the restaurant has a strong German theme, from the Maennerchor plaques on the walls, to the cozy rooms, to the excellent beer selection, and finally to the menu options themselves.  (Although, when we where there, a bagpiper and drummer from the Columbus Shamrock Club stopped by to treat us to some music before enjoying a few pints at the bar, and when they left they departed with a heartfelt rendition of Carmen Ohio, The Ohio State University’s familiar alma mater.  I can now attest that Carmen Ohio sounds pretty darned good when played on a bagpipe.)

We started our meal with the sauerkraut ball and potato pancake appetizers.  Both were very good, but the potato pancakes are worthy of a special note because they were prepared in the preferred way:  crisp, well-crusted, and served the traditional way with dark mustard and applesauce.  For my entree I got the weinerschnitzel and spaetzle, which is the acid test for any German restaurant.  The schnitzel was tender and flavorful with a very nice breading, and the spaetzle was as light as spaetzle can be — after all, German cuisine is of the stick to your ribs variety — and had an excellent, peppery flavoring.  The portions were abundant, too, which is another German trademark, and the prices were very reasonable.

During our meal we met Valter himself, who made the rounds of the tables and later graciously treated us to some very tasty mini cream puffs.  He suggested that we stop by for brunch some weekend, and showed us a picture of a pancake concoction that made having brunch at the Maennerchor look like a very wise decision.

It’s nice to have another fun German food option in German Village.

 

The Rise Of The Knife-And-Fork Sandwich

I like a good sandwich at lunch.  These days, however, it is getting increasingly difficult to find a true sandwich — that is, something tasty placed between two pieces of some kind of bread that you can pick up in your hand and eat without too much muss or fuss.

IMG_6130There’s no problem with the tasty part, that’s for sure.  Take this delightful double cheeseburger I got today from deNovo Bistro and Bar, one of the many good restaurants on High Street in the downtown area.  It was very savory, indeed, with its medium rare beef, sliced onion, and melted cheese and sauce.  The dusted fries were excellent, too.

No, it’s the pick up in your hand without muss or fuss part that has become the problem.  The amount of food being put between the bread slices — and especially the heapings of melty, saucy concoctions that make your mouth burst with flavor — just make it impossible for you to take a bite out of a handheld sandwich.  If you try, you’re going to end up with food falling to the plate and onto your lap, hands that are covered with goo, and a paper napkin that is soaked and probably ripped to shreds, besides.  Unless you want to look like a slob and run the embarrassing risk of stray dogs racing over to lick your fingers clean you need to recognize reality and use the civilized utensils to slice up and wolf down these gooey, overflowing masterpieces.

So call it the emerging era of the knife-and-fork sandwich.  It’s not necessarily a bad thing, just . . . different.  If the Earl of Sandwich could eat some of these creative approaches to his namesake, I honestly don’t think he would mind.