Birdsong And Coffee

A powerful set of rainstorms rolled over our neighborhood overnight, leaving the ground wet and the air with that light, crisp, delectable, freshly washed feel. Taking deep whiffs of the air the morning after a Midwestern summer storm is like crawling into a bed made with freshly laundered sheets.

I poured myself a cup of coffee, from beans just ground by Stauf’s, and padded out onto our back porch, where the neighborhood birds were putting on a musical performance, free to anyone who cared to listen.

Sunday morning is a good time to drink a fine cup of coffee and listen to the birds. There’s no traffic on Third to increase the level of background noise, and you can hear the different birds, with their different, melodic calls, distinctly. It is so quiet and peaceful that you can hear the chirps and songs of birds in the distance, answering the calls of their brethren, and when the birds take a brief break, the absolute stillness feels deep and almost palpable.

The birds put on a pretty good show.

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The Random Restaurant Tour (XVI)

Sometimes, the story of a restaurant isn’t about the good food you’ve enjoyed — it’s about how you never got to sample the fare because the place went toes up before you ever got a chance to visit.

The restaurant business is a notoriously difficult one, particularly for stand-alone start-ups. Statistics show that more than half of newly established restaurants will be out of business within three years.  The most common reasons for failure, according to the experts, are lack of sufficient cash flow and capitalization, a concept that doesn’t work, a bad location, and poor quality food.

In our little section of downtown Columbus, we’ve seen several restaurants close their doors recently.  Stack’d is one that I never got a chance to try.  Located at the corner of Third Street and Lynn Alley about a block from our firm, Stack’d billed itself as “The Flavor Architects” and offered a diverse menu of sandwiches, salads, pizzas, chips, and smoothies.  It was open for a few months, then posted a sign saying that management had gone south for the winter, then a sign that the restaurant could be rented for training, and finally the “for sale” sign that is there now.  Why did Stack’d fail?  Who knows?  The only word-of-mouth I heard about Stack’d when it was open, from one person, was that the food was good but the ordering process was complicated and patrons had a lot of decisions to make.

The story was different for another restaurant that closed recently.  The Carvery, located directly across Gay Street from the firm, offered sandwiches and soups that were very good.  It seemed to do a thriving business and was always bustling when I was there.  But then it apparently experienced some kind of significant plumbing problem, posted a sign that it was temporarily closed — and never reopened.

We’ve heard that another restaurant will be opening at The Carvery’s former location, and I’d expect some other food-loving entrepreneur will eventually take a stab at opening up where Stack’d used to operate.  I wish them good luck, and hope they stay open long enough for me to visit.

 

The Random Restaurant Tour (XV)

We’ve got a taco war brewing in downtown Columbus.  Condado opened a few years ago and has become a fixture on the east side of High Street, right next to the Columbus Commons.  Now Tio’s Tacos and Tequila has opened on the west side of High Street, just down the block.

Last week the lunch bunch paid our first visit to Tio’s and came away favorably impressed. Tio has a totally different vibe than Condado.  For one thing, it’s much quieter.  Condado goes for more of a bustling street taco approach; Tio opts for more of a traditional restaurant feel.  Consistent with that, there’s an actual menu of taco options, rather than the Condado build-your-own taco checklist.  That’s not to say one approach is better than another — they’re just different.

As for the tacos?  They’re very good.  So good, in fact, that JV and the Bus-Riding Conservative staked out the aggressive position that Tio’s tacos are better than Condado’s.  The Unkempt Guy and I, being less impulsive and more thoughtful by nature, weren’t quite willing to go so far after only one visit, but we admitted the tacos were excellent.  At the recommendation of our server we all got a spread of three, which turned out to be just right for a moderate lunch.  My favorite was the taco on the right, above, which substituted a folded slice of jicama for the taco and was filled with crunchy shrimp and covered with chipotle sauce.

Who will win the downtown Columbus taco wars?  I think the real winner will be the downtown lunch crowd, which now has a choice when they feel the call of the taco.

The Random Restaurant Tour (XIV)

Yesterday Dr. Science and I were supposed to have lunch at a restaurant on the south side of town.  When noon rolled around, however, the rain was absolutely pouring down, so we needed a central destination to minimize the downpour effect.  Let’s see — he’s just south of the Statehouse, and I’m just north of the Statehouse.  Hey, how about the Statehouse?  You can’t get more central than that!

Fortunately, there is in fact a place to eat at Ohio’s seat of government.  It’s located in the “basement” of the Statehouse, reachable through the Third Street entrance.  You walk past the map room and the shouts of schoolkids on a field trip, turn right at the main hallway, and then look for the place where the staffers are heading, tucked away in a few rooms on one side of the hallway.

The restaurant is a breakfast and lunch spot called GRAZE.  As the name suggests, GRAZE is all about farms and pastures — specifically, the “farm to table” concept in which Ohio eggs, dairy products, and proteins are featured.  The menu includes breakfast items, sandwiches, soups, salads, wraps, and bowls, and the goal is for customers to obtain “a protein packed and nutritious lunch for less than $10.”  You start in the room with the kitchen area, place your order at the counter, watch the food preparers go to work, move down to the cashier’s station, and settle up on your order, and by the time you get your tray and water cup your freshly made food has appeared.  You then head into one of the adjoining rooms to find a table and eat your lunch.

I went for the lamb gyro bowl — without the romaine, tomato, and cucumber, of course — and it was really quite good, with moist, shredded lamb, tasty pickled onions, brown rice, lots of feta cheese, and tzatziki sauce.  It definitely hit the spot, and at $9.50, it also met the “under $10” test.  I gladly consumed it all.

As I sat relishing my meal, I thought idly about the name “GRAZE,” its clear bovine connotations, and its suitability for a restaurant name — but then I realized that horses also graze, and I obviously needed fuel for the afternoon’s race.  I concluded that GRAZE was a pretty good place to tie on the old feedbag.

Whirlybirds Accompaniment

I went to work this morning, and as I was working I kept hearing this great jazz music coming up from the street below during today’s Sunlight Market on Gay Street.  I couldn’t tell whether I was hearing a recording or a live band — but the music was terrific.  It was old-school jazz that had a kind of New Orleans feel to it.  It reminded me of Tuba Skinny, one of my favorite Big Easy jazz bands.

whirlybirds-facebook-picWhen I left the office and walked out onto Gay Street, I saw that the music was coming a live band.  They finished a number and took a break, and I walked up to throw a few dollars into their open guitar case and thank them for adding a little musical accompaniment to my Sunday work session.  They were a Columbus-based band called the Whirlybirds, and they were great.  You can check out their Facebook page here and hear one of their numbers here.

I’m going to keep an eye out for a chance to hear more from the Whirlybirds.

Green, Green, Green

Green has never been one of my favorite colors, but after a long, gray, bleak winter I’m relishing the explosion of springtime color — all green, of course — in our backyard. The trees, grass, shrubs, and plants seem to have covered virtually every shade in the green rainbow.

Time to get out the green color chart. Chartreuse? Check. Lime? Check. Olive? Check. Emerald? Check . . . .