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.

Kolache Republic

IMG_5973Well, on the day before we celebrate the founding of the American Republic, Kish and I discovered Kolache Republic.  It was a pleasant discovery, indeed.

Kolache Republic is one of those restaurants that you hear about through word of mouth.  It’s located in an unassuming brick building on South High Street, on the western edge of German Village.  It’s legendary among German Villagers for serving the best inexpensive breakfast in town.  We’ve been meaning to give it a try, and today we finally got there.

IMG_5976Unfortunately, we did not get there in time for breakfast.  Kolache Republic is one of those places that makes its fare and sells it, and when it’s gone — it’s gone.  By the time we arrived around noon, the breakfast kolaches were gone.

Fortunately, however, the KR was still serving lunch, and that meant that one of the two stalwarts running the shop told me about the Cuban sandwich kolache, made with shredded pulled pork and sausage.  The meat is baked inside the bread, and the result is incredibly moist and flavorful.  Served with some spicy, bright-tasting mustard sauce on the side, it was ridiculously good — in fact, it was one of the best meat and bread concoctions I’ve had in years.  It was so good I can’t wait to spring it on Dr. Science, who usually is the person who is in-the-know on great restaurants that are off the beaten path.  And, the Cuban sandwich kolache was a downright bargain at only $6.95.

The whole meal, which also included a blueberry and sweet cheese kolache, a pecan kolache, and two excellent cups of coffee, was a steal at about $15.00.  It made me more than happy to contribute to the “college fund” tip jar next to the register.

As I said, Kolache Republic is one of those hidden gems that you hear about only through word of mouth.  Consider yourself clued in.

Massive Mohawk Meal

IMG_0508Let’s assume, hypothetically, that you’ve had a long, tough day at work.  Let’s assume, further, that when you get home you don’t feel like cooking.  In fact, let’s assume that nothing sounds more appealing to you than a few pint glasses of seasonal beer and a pound or so of quesadillas, preferably interspersed with some tortilla chips and dip.

Brother, I’ve found the place for you!  I give you the Olde Mohawk Massive Mohawk Quesadilla and an excellent Elevator Winter Warmer, all brought to you by a friendly restaurant that is only a short walk from your doorstep.  It’s one of those meals where you aren’t looking for some gaudy, foo-foo foodie concoction but rather something substantial that will stick to your ribs and hold its own against the spicy brew.

Thank you, Olde Mohawk!  This hit the spot.

G. Michael’s After Dark

IMG_4704Last night after the Symphony performance we headed back to German Village for some noshing at G. Michael’s, the terrific bistro located within a few blocks of our new home.  We wanted to sample some of their “small plates” — which seemed like a wise option, as opposed to a full-blown meal, after 10 p.m. on a Friday night.

Guess what?  The G. Michael’s “small plates” aren’t in fact, very small . . . but they are incredibly tasty.  Kish and the CCC each got the shrimp and grits, which is one of the bistro’s signature dishes, and shared a side of brussel sprouts and couldn’t finish it all.  I got the housemade sausage stuffed strudel, with low country red beans and pepper jam, pictured above, which was both huge and fantastic, with a very pleasant spicy kick that more than held its own against a good glass of red wine.  I ate every bit of it.

At the end of the meal our great waitress gave us good news and bad news.  The bad news is that the G. Michael’s autumn menu will be ending in a week or so, and the excellent sausage strudel will be cycling off the carte.  (Noooooo!!!!!)  The good news is that the talented chefs at G. Michael’s no doubt have already created new, equally tasty concoctions to replace it — well, in a manner of speaking — on the menu.

Incidentally, the late-evening dining ambiance at G. Michael’s is very enjoyable.  We got there as most of the supper crowd was clearing out, and we enjoyed sitting in the quiet, candlelit, white tablecloth-topped dining room, listening to some mellow jazz selections on the sound system and hearing the clink of glasses as the bartenders prepared to close up shop while we finished our drinks and dessert.  It’s another reason why G. Michael’s is one of Columbus’ very best restaurants.

IMG_4710

Surprises At Alana’s

Last night Kish and I went to dinner with our friend the Bahamian Pilot at Alana’s Food and Wine. It was a chance to rediscover one of Columbus’ really good restaurants.

We’ve been to Alana’s before and had good meals, but it had dropped off our radar screen. Its location — on High Street, just a few blocks north of the OSU campus — is an awkward one for us, because there’s no easy, direct, quick way to get there from New Albany. After last night’s meal, I realize I don’t care if we have to endure a byzantine drive to get to this place. It’s definitely worth the trip.

IMG_1752Last night Alana’s was debuting a new menu. We noticed that the appetizer and entree lists both contained the single word “surprise” and a price. We tried to cajole our friendly waiter into spilling the secret, but he wouldn’t. If you wanted to find our what it was, you had to order it — and take a great leap of faith, because you’re really trusting the chef and the breadth of your palate.

I thought it was a cool idea, so I took the plunge and ordered both surprises. It turned out to be an inspired decision. The appetizer was stuffed peppers with a delicate filling and a zingy, gravy-like sauce that demanded to be mopped up with bread and savored. The entree was a big, hearty cassoulet with lots of duck confit, a duck breast that was fall-off-the-bone tender, sausages, and huge lima beans that were both crunchy and infused with meaty flavor. When the waiter revealed that there was a surprise on the dessert menu, too, we had to give it a shot — and we went three for three. It was a kind of thick peanut butter and jelly brownie that went well with a post-dinner cup of coffee.

Alana’s also has a wine menu that features a good selection at reasonable prices and a cool bar area. It’s always on the Columbus top ten restaurant lists — and as I saw last night, its place on those lists should come as no surprise.

North Market Lunching: Firdous Express

Your life has been a bit bland, you say?  Your dulled taste buds have a hankering for a little Mediterranean flavor, and you are hungry, besides?  Then wander over to the North Market to Firdous Express, across from Hubert’s Polish Kitchen, let your eyes feast on the many freshly made, piping hot, ever-changing entrees that are displayed beneath the glass, and know that you have come to the right place.

Firdous has something for just about everyone.  They feature stews and spicy concoctions made with chicken, lamb, and beef, a vast array of different vegetables, different salad options and rice options, excellent hummus, and pita bread.  As is true throughout the North Market, lunch is reasonably priced, and you get great value for your buck.  Lunch at Firdous, with drink, comes in at about $10, and for that you get an entree over rice and a salad or hummus with pita bread.  (Guess which I pick?)

When I visit Firdous I usually favor a tender, cubed chicken in a lemony sauce that tastes fantastic over a bed of rice and lentils.  On my most recent trip, however, I decided to branch out and went for a delicately spiced stew of meat and tomatoes, along with my standard side of rice and lentils and creamy hummus and pita bread.  It was excellent — I’d expected nothing less — and I left a happy man.

North Market Lunching:  Hubert’s Polish Kitchen

North Market Lunching:  Nida’s Sushi

North Market Lunching:  Kitchen Little

North Market Lunching: Hubert’s Polish Kitchen

If I had to pick one word to describe the food at Hubert’s Polish Kitchen, that word would be “hearty.”  This is a place to go if you are hungry.  Hubert’s offers unabashedly meat-oriented fare with no apologies, and it is tasty fare, indeed.

The proprietor, Hubert, is one of the nicest guys you’re likely to meet.  He proudly told me on one of my visits that his food is prepared using recipes that he got from his grandmother.  She obviously was a darned good cook!  On a typical day you are likely to find some combination of breaded chicken cutlets, kielbasa, different types of stews, pierogi, goulash, Polish cole slaw, mashed potatoes, leek salad, dumplings, and cucumbers and sour cream, among other goodies.  The service is fast and friendly, and Hubert just might insist that you give a new concoction a try.  After you make your purchase, he’ll ask you to come back and let him know how you liked it.

My typical selection from Hubert’s is the breaded chicken cutlet with mashed potatoes and sliced cucumbers with sour cream.  The cutlet is man-sized, well seasoned, tender and juicy.  The mashed spuds are excellent, and I usually ask to have a bit of stew poured over the top.  With a diet Coke, the price tab comes to about $10 — which is a pretty good deal for a full belly and a happy encounter with the nice folks behind the counter.

North Market Lunching:  Nida’s Sushi

North Market Lunching:  Kitchen Little

North Market Lunching: Nida’s Sushi

Nida’s Sushi is an unusual place.  Tucked away in one of the interior lanes in the North Market complex, Nida’s Sushi feels like it is in a different country entirely.  With cramped counter space, countless porcelain cats strewn across the counter, and people working hard in a tiny kitchen area, you feel like this place would fit comfortably in just about any side street off the Ginza.

The colorful beverage cooler

Nida’s offers sushi, soups, curries, traditional oriental fare, and a curious selection of other foods.  This is your place to visit if you want to get a large can of fiery wasabi peas, seaweed salad, squid salad, sweet rice cakes, or bags of unknown snacks.

And the beverage cooler features the most eclectic offering of refreshments you are likely to find anywhere in Columbus.  The drinks come in just about every color of the rainbow — although green seems to be especially popular — but I don’t know precisely what flavors are available because many of the containers have only Japanese labels.  Some of the packaging makes the drinks look disturbingly like bottles of mouthwash.  Perhaps for that reason, I haven’t been brave enough to reach into the cooler, grab a drink at random, and take my chances.

The chicken Pad Thai

The food is pretty good and reasonably priced.  I particularly like the chicken Pad Thai, which is served in a no-frills styrofoam container with a plastic fork.  For only $7.25, you get a large portion that is chock full of  well-flavored chicken, noodles, egg, peanuts and crunchy bean sprouts.  The sign above the counter says the Pad Thai is the “best authentic in Columbus.”  I don’t know whether that is true or not, but it is tasty.  Add a diet Dr. Brown’s — or, if you are a more adventurous type, one of the unknown liquid concoctions from the colorful cooler — and you’ve got a good North Market lunch.

North Market Lunching:  Kitchen Little

Bier Stube Pizza (aka Joe’s Place)

Looking to get some good pizza in northwest Columbus — and at a place where you can drink an adult beverage, watch an NCAA game, and shoot some pool or throw some darts?  If so, I suggest Bier Stube/Bier Stube Pizza, located at 2390 West Dublin-Granville Road on the stretch of 161 between Rt. 315 and Sawmill Road.

In the interests of full disclosure, I need to note that my nephew, Joe Hartnett, runs the pizza joint.  Family connection or not, Joe makes a damn good pie.  The crust is crisp and not too thick, and the sauce is tangy and sweet.  What I really like, however, are the meat toppings.  The sausage is especially good, served in large, spicy chunks that seem to snap between your teeth.  Equally important, as the photo of the sausage and pepperoni pizza above suggests, at Bier Stube Pizza they don’t scrimp on the toppings.

The signature pizza is the “Big Al,” named for Joe’s Dad; it is a man-sized meal that is loaded with toppings.  And while you are waiting for your fresh-baked pizza to emerge piping hot from the oven you can sample some pretty good bar food, too — like cheesy bread and fried mushrooms.  They all go down well with a cold one.

Bier Stube Pizza is a neighborhood place with neighborhood prices.  You’ll get your money’s worth, and if you give it a shot you’ll be supporting a budding local businessman and entrepreneur who takes a lot of pride in his product.  Why not try it the next time you have a taste for a well-made pizza?

Saturday “Night” At The Windward Passage

Yesterday various members of the Webner clan — Mom, Kish, Richard, UJ, Cath, Al, and I — had dinner at the Windward Passage restaurant in Upper Arlington.  At least, I think you would call it dinner.  We got there at 4:30 p.m. to beat the rush.  Maybe “linner” is a better word for a meal that we consumed about two hours before we normally have our evening repast.

The bar at the Windward Passage

The Windward Passage, located in a shopping center at the intersection of Henderson and Reed Roads, is one of those throwback places.  It has been around since 1973, and most of its patrons have been frequenting the restaurant for decades.  I would wager that 99 percent of the patrons proudly carry their “Golden Buckeye” cards, and the average age of the drinkers and diners looks to be about 75.  During our visit last night, the emergency squad paid a visit to tend to one of the diners who collapsed, which probably is not that rare an occurrence. I would not be surprised if every Windward waitress had to take CPR training to qualify for the job.

Given their age, it should not come as a surprise that the Windward’s patrons are early birds.  Even arriving at the ungodly hour of 4:30, we barely got a table in the bar.  The place quickly became packed.  Thirsty seniors filled every seat at the bar, guzzling highballs and creating a serious din.  In the meantime, crowds of elderly citizens lurked by the bar and hovered near the tables.  Nothing like a white-haired guy with a walker and his elaborately coiffed wife glaring at you expectantly to spur quick consumption of your meal!  At one point, when the people at the table next to us left, competing groups of hoverers scrambled for the seats — well, perhaps it would be more accurate to say they with as much determination and speed as their artificial hips would allow — and for a few minutes we thought we might have to break up a cane duel between two of the more boisterous seniors.

Last night's Lake Erie perch dinner

Columbus seniors love the Windward because the food is cheap, plentiful, and well-prepared.  I can’t speak to the quality of the menu, generally, because I always get the same entree whenever I go there — fried Lake Erie perch with french fries.  The perch are excellent — lightly battered, moist and flavorful, and not greasy, and the french fries are crisp.  And if you are a senior looking to fill your belly and stretch your budget, you appreciate the fact that the meal comes with broccoli, cottage cheese and a basket of bread.

When we left at around 6 the bar area was jammed and there was a crush of starving seniors hanging out in the Windward’s waiting area — no doubt regularly checking with the maitre d’ to see where they stood on the waiting list and looking in the dining room hoping to stare down a few diners and intimidate them into leaving early.  When Kish and I got home we decided to join AARP.

Black Creek Bistro

Last night we went out to dinner with our good friends Chuck and Laura.  We wanted to try a new place, and after some research Kish picked the Black Creek Bistro.

The Bistro fries

The restaurant is located in the Olde Towne East neighborhood, on Parsons Avenue a few blocks south of Broad Street.  It has been around since 2007 and is a local leader in the local sourcing and green business movements.  In fact, the owner views the restaurant as an extension of his Canal Winchester farm.  Of course, all of the good intentions in the world don’t mean diddly if the food isn’t up to snuff.  I’m happy to report, therefore, that the food served by the Black Creek Bistro is very good, indeed.

You enter the restaurant through an intimate bar area where patrons can also have their meal.   The bar serves a wide selection of drinks and specializes in infused vodka martinis.  Kish and Laura enjoyed a few pear and pomegranate martinis and gave them an enthusiastic thumbs-up.

The beet salad

The main dining area is in an adjoining room with high ceilings, white-washed walls, and some interesting sculpture on the otherwise bare walls.  When we were there on Saturday the place was packed.  The noise level in the dining are was just about perfect:  enough of a hubbub to give a sense of excitement to the dining experience, but not so loud that you couldn’t converse with your dining companions.

We started our meal with two appetizers — the Bistro fries with a duet of sauces, which is something of a signature appetizer for the restaurant, and the firecracker shrimp.  Both were excellent.  The Bistro fries were crispy and light, and the white truffle dipping sauce and spicy ketchup were very nice complements to the potato flavor.  The firecracker shrimp were spicy, with a bit of a kick.  The two appetizers were more than enough for the four of us to share.  Kish and Laura then had the beet salad.  I tried the soup of the day, which was a fine duck and zucchini puree.  I scraped the bowl to enjoy every drop.

The stuffed pork tenderloin

Chuck, Laura, and Kish got the Black Creek Bistro’s signature entree, which is slow-roasted duck gnocchi, with gnocchi, hand-pulled duck meat, cranberries, and a garlic cream sauce.  I couldn’t resist the stuffed pork tenderloin, which is prepared with apple, bacon, and fruit stuffing and an apple-bacon demi-glace.  It was exceptionally good.  The combination of the moist pork, the fruit, and the bacon resulted in a dish that was bursting with flavor, and the mashed spuds were a perfect accompaniment. (I didn’t eat the other vegetables on the plate, of course, but Kish did and said they were good as well.)

For dessert, Chuck and Laura had the banana tiramasu and Kish had the apple pot pie.  I finished off my meal with a well-brewed cup of coffee.  As we left, the proprietor surprised us with some handmade praline caramels prepared by the pastry chef.  We polished them off with relish.

We’ll be back to the Black Creek Bistro.

My Favorite Restaurants: Indian Oven

There are some restaurants that show off Columbus to good advantage.  Indian Oven, on East Main Street, is one of them.  If someone who is new to town is laboring under the misconception that Columbus is a boring food town, one visit to Indian Oven will disabuse them of that grossly mistaken notion.  That’s why, every year, I take every member of the firm’s Columbus crop of new summer clerks to Indian Oven for lunch.  They have a good lunch, and they leave knowing that Columbus is a bit more interesting and diverse than they previously thought.

For starters, this is a good looking place to eat.  The color scheme is red and yellow — appropriate for Indian cuisine, don’t you think? — and the interior features lots of burnished aluminum surfaces, high ceilings, small drop-down light fixtures, and large windows that flood the dining area with natural light.  The open, bright surroundings make Indian Oven a delightful place to dine.

More importantly, the food is even better than the decor.  This is one of the few restaurants in Columbus where you can take a vegetarian and a meat-eater for a meal and be confident that they both will have lots of interesting and well-prepared choices that will meet their dietary requirements.  I’m predictable — I usually get either lamb korma or lamb curry, so much so that for years the staff referred to me as “lamb curry guy” — but I’ve taken dozens of people to lunch and dinner at the IO, and I’ve never heard anything but raves.  (The lamb korma and lamb curry are both so good I don’t feel any need to experiment; I get to the restaurant with every intention of trying something new, but I just can’t resist ordering one of my all-time favorites dishes.)  And for dinner the kitchen will stretch out a bit, serving dishes like goat or fresh seafood that are always exceptionally well prepared.

I also like the fact that this is a friendly, welcoming place.  The gracious proprietor tries, with immense good humor, to get me to sample something different.  The staff are nice folks, and they aren’t shy about making suggestions, either.  One of them told me that I needed to try their tea because it was “life-changing.”  I wouldn’t go quite that far, but it is an excellent, spicy concoction that goes very well with lamb korma and roti.  And I really don’t need the tea to change my life — just having Indian Oven as a regular lunch stop has been life-changing enough.