Rainy August

Normally, August is one of the hottest months of the year. It’s typically the month when your lawn dries out and finally gives up the ghost, and you squirm with embarrassment when your neighbors arch an eyebrow at the carpet of brownness.

Not this year, though. We’re in the midst of the wettest August I can remember, where you need to carry your umbrella every day just in case another gullywasher is going to roll through town. We had a big cloudburst this afternoon, and another one tonight. It’s as if August and April traded places.

The lawn seems to be enjoying it, though. What’s next? August mushrooms?

Advertisements

The Random Restaurant Tour (XVIII)

I’m a firm believer in the importance of getting out of the office, taking a break from the workday grind, and having lunch with friends, family members, and colleagues.  However, there are days when the press of work is just too much.  You realize you’ve got to work through lunch, and that means you’ve got to eat lunch at your desk.

When that happens, as it did yesterday, I’m extremely grateful for Cafe Phenix.

The Phenix is one of our Gay Street neighbors, located right across the street from the firm.  You can dine in at their pleasant shop or the sidewalk eating area just outside, or take out, ordering from a full menu of sandwiches, quiches, soups, and pastries, with a full array of teas, milkshakes, smoothies, and other beverage items.  The proprietor and his staff are friendly folks who are likely to engage you in a pleasant bit of conversation while your food is being prepared, and the menu changes daily, with specials shown on a sign outside and soup offerings written on a chalkboard behind the counter.

When I’ve visited the Phenix to get carryout for a desktop working lunch, I inevitably get the soup.  I’ve had the croque monsieur sandwich, which was very good indeed, but the proprietor’s true medium for culinary artistry is bisques, chowders, gumbos, and other forms of hot, steaming, spoon-friendly nourishment.  In my opinion he is one of the very best soup makers in town.  In fact, his sausage and seafood gumbo and seafood bisque are the stuff of Gay Street legend.

Yesterday, I got a carry-out bowl of the white chicken chili, a creamy concoction stuffed with chunks of chicken, onions, potato, and great northern beans.  The Phenix threw in some moist, ridiculously buttery corn bread that I crumbled into the soup, licking my fingers all the while.  I enjoyed every bite of the result, and for only $3.99, a bowl of soup from the Cafe Phenix is awfully easy on your wallet, too.

The Phenix almost makes you look forward to a lunch at your desk.

Today’s Political Test Market

Columbus has a long and storied history as a test market for new products.  Soft drinks, fast-food offerings, and other consumer goods are often introduced here because central Ohio is a fair microcosm of the country as a whole, with a spread of income levels, races, ethnicities, and urban, suburban, and rural settings in a small geographic area.

12th_congressionalToday, the Columbus area will serve as a test market of a different sort.  The product being evaluated is politics.  There’s a special election to fill the congressional seat in the 12th District, which is one of three districts in the central Ohio area, and all indications are that the race is neck and neck.  The national political gurus are focused on the race as a potential advance indicator of the country’s mood when Election Day rolls around in November.

Republicans are worried because the 12th District has long been a GOP seat, but when long-time Congressman Pat Tiberi retired in January the seat went up for grabs.  The Democrats nominated Danny O’Connor, who has campaigned as a centrist and raised a lot of money.  In a bid to appeal to a middle of the road electorate, O’Connor originally vowed not to support Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House if he was elected, although he recently retreated from that pledge.  The Republican candidate is Troy Balderson, a state Senator who has been endorsed by both Ohio Governor John Kasich, who once represented the 12th District, and President Donald Trump, who has been here recently to campaign for Balderson.  The most recent polls show the race is effectively tied.

Which way will the test market go?  There’s a reason the polls are close.  The economy is going strong in central Ohio, and the 12th District, which in Richland Country, follows I-71 south to touch down in the northern suburbs of Columbus, then sweeps east to Newark and Zanesville, includes some of the fastest growing areas of the state and areas that, until recently, were in a prolonged slump.  But central Ohioans are notoriously, well, centrist in their politics, and for many people President Trump’s bare-knuckled, name-calling style of politics hasn’t been well received.

Interestingly, although the race has drawn national attention, there hasn’t been a lot of chatter about it in our town, outside of Democratic and Republican circles.  I think many voters are keeping their cards close to their vests and are still making up their minds, and I wouldn’t even venture a guess on which way the race will go.

Many Democrats are hoping for a Blue Wave come November that will turn control of the House and Senate over to the Democrats and allow them to block President Trump’s initiatives.  If the Democrats can win the 12th District today, the Blue Wave may well have started rolling just north and east of Columbus.

Jeff Ruby’s

For years, there had been deep concern among the people of Columbus, Ohio.  If you wanted a selection of steaks and were in the area of downtown between Mitchell’s Steakhouse on Third Street and Hyde Park on the High Street cap, there was nowhere to go!  Sure, you could get a good steak at Flatiron Bar and Diner as one of the items on its Cajun-influenced menu, but if you wanted the full steakhouse experience, you were totally out of luck.

Fortunately, Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse ventured north from its Cincinnati roots and appeared on Nationwide Boulevard to address the disturbing steakhouse desert that existed in the north downtown area.  Now we have three high-end steakhouses in the space of a few walkable blocks.

Last night the Bahamians joined Kish and me as we checked out Columbus’ newest steakhouse.  We found a lavishly decorated place — the chandeliers alone might require us to don sunglasses for the next visit — that featured live music in the bar and a busy dining room.  The wait staff was extremely professional and helpful, and featured both our waiter and a sommelier who advised on the many choices on the wine list.  After we indicated our interest in Italian wines and ordered a reasonably priced bottle of Amarone, he stopped by at the end of the meal and offered us a free pour of another Italian wine on the list.  It’s the kind of treatment that helps to bring people back.

The food is on the pricey side for Columbus, Ohio, but it was good, too.  I got the ribeye, which was prepared with a very nice char and was succulent.  For sides we went with some tasty creamed spinach and a kind of loaded potato gratin (the others in the party also tried the green beans, which I studiously avoided), and the four of us split a creamy piece of cheesecake and a chocolate cream puff for dessert.  It was a fine meal from stem to stern.

How many steakhouses does downtown Columbus need?  As far as I’m concerned, there just can’t be too many.  I’m glad Jeff Ruby’s has joined the club.

Elephants’ Ears

The gardeners at Schiller Park always come up with interesting floral arrangements, but this year might just be the best yet. I love the enormous green-leafed plants that I walk past every morning at the Third Street entrance into the park. I look at them and inevitably think of elephant ears, and it makes me smile. Who doesn’t like thinking of an elephant first thing in the morning?

The Random Restaurant Tour (XVII)

Pecan Penny’s is the new BBQ joint in downtown Columbus.  It’s located in the old Ray Johnson’s Fish Market building on Main Street, between Third and Fourth.  Yesterday, JV, the Unkempt Guy and I decided to venture forth into an end of July downpour and check it out for the first time.

The set-up at Pecan Penny’s is different than at most restaurants, but familiar territory for barbecue aficionados.  You order at the counter from a menu posted on the wall, take your tray to go fetch your drink, and before you know it your order appears and you find a table, inside or outside, to sit down and eat.  The delivery of my order took about the blink of an eye, and I got my food before I’d even filled my water glass.  If you’re interested in something quick, Pecan Penny’s is the place for you.

Oh, and the barbecue is pretty good, too.  I got the brisket with mac and cheese, which also comes with some toasted bread and a large homemade pickle chip.  I doused the meat with some Hot Grandpa sauce — apparently a PP staple — in honor of JV, whose going to be a grandpa here soon, although of a decidedly lower temperature.  The brisket was moist, smoky, and quite good, with the HG sauce adding a nice zing to it.  The mac and cheese, which is infused with crunchy bread crumbs, was very tasty indeed and a great complement to the brisket, and the toast was good, too.  I ate everything except the pickle chip and enjoyed it all.

JV got the pulled pork and baked beans and gave them an enthusiastic thumbs-up, and the UG also enjoyed the brisket.  During lunch the UG regaled us with tales of his home barbecuing and meat-smoking prowess, but the fact that he got some kind of cucumber-oriented side dish made me question his true barbecue bona fides.  Really, UG?  Cukes, rather than mac and cheese or baked beans?  I shake my head in dismay.

By the way, Pecan Penny’s has a very pleasant, informal atmosphere, with a nice wait staff, too.  There is a bar area, a front of the building patio, and a back of the building fire pit.  It has the laid-back, relaxed vibe that makes you think it would be a good place to hang with friends, eat a little charred meat, and enjoy an adult beverage or three.  The lunch crew will definitely be back.

Seeing The Way Clear

For the last year of so, every day on my walk to work and on the way home I’ve faced this same scene at the corner of Rich and Third Streets in downtown Columbus.  They’re putting up a new building called 80 on the Commons.  I’ve watched the construction of the building with interest, but walking past the site has been a royal pain.

They’ve closed the sidewalk and one lane of Third Street so construction workers and equipment have room to work.  As a result, we pedestrians have been shunted off to a narrow temporary walking lane with a chain-link fence to one side and a row of orange barriers to the other.  And just on the other side of the orange barriers, so close that walkers could easily reach out and touch them, are cars, trucks, and buses speeding down Third Street.  Third Street just happens to be one of the main ways out of downtown, and it’s always jammed with fast-moving traffic.

It’s unnerving to be so close to the traffic, and it became even more so when I was started walking down the channel one day this winter and discovered that some driver had smashed into the row of orange barriers, crushing a few of them and knocking the rest out of line — which made me have to climb over the helter-skelter barriers to get to work.  I thanked my lucky stars that I wasn’t walking down the lane when that incident occurred.  Interestingly, they didn’t appear to replace the crushed barriers, they just made the barrier row shorter — which means that when you emerge at the north end of the row the orange barrier row ends before the fencing does.

The temporary walking path has gotten pretty disgusting, too.  Trash gets blown into the channel or is dropped by thoughtless jerks and gets trapped there, so you’re always picking your way around the newest food wrapper or soft drink can to be added to the debris field.  You’d think that somebody on the construction crew or from the City of Columbus would be responsible for picking up and disposing of the trash, but the interests of downtown walkers apparently aren’t a high priority.

The signs on the chain link fence have been telling me that 80 on the Commons is coming in the summer of 2018.  Well, it’s the summer of 2018 already — and I’m still waiting.  It looks like they are finally getting ready to end construction and reopen the sidewalk.  I’ll be grateful to finally see the way clear to the office again.