At Seventh Son

Tonight we met the Ex-Neighbors at Seventh Son.  In addition to being regaled with tales of their two lovely daughters– who can’t possibly be as grown-up as they evidently are — we enjoyed some of the excellent adult beverages Seventh Son brews and some food truck fare, besides.

The Seventh Son model is simple and, I think, smart.  Brew your own fine beer, then invite food trucks to stop by — thereby ensuring grub variety.  Tonight the food truck was the Explorers Club, and I had their excellent Mofongo sandwich, piled high with smoked pulled pork, cilantro , plantains, jack cheese and slaw.  It paired quite well with the very tasty Seventh Son saisons.

I’ve not had much food truck fare since the Dinin’ Hall in Franklinton closed down.  It’s my loss.  I miss Dinin’ Hall!

The Columbus Top Six

The Brown Bear, a faithful reader of the Wall Street Journal, alerted some of us to a Journal article that includes Columbus in a list of “6 great small cities for food lovers” and identifies six great food options for the lucky residents of Ohio’s flagship city.  The Journal‘s six Columbus choices are The Refectory, Skillet, Basi Italia, Wolf’s Ridge Brewing, Katalina, and Ajumama.

I’ve got no quibble with the restaurants on the list, although I haven’t been to Katalina yet.  In fact, I’ve written about my excellent omelet at Skillet, the delicious toad in the hole at Wolf’s Ridge Brewing, and the mid-boggling amdong chicken at Ajumama, pictured at right.  The Refectory has long been a Columbus gastronomic landmark — its oyster soup may be the best soup this committed soupophile has ever tasted — and Basi Italia is a favorite of our friends the Bahamians where we’ve always had great meals.  I also commend the Journal for including a food truck, Ajumama, among the six choices.  I’m a huge fan of the Columbus food truck culture, whether found at Dinin’ Hall or the annual food truck festival, and I’m glad to see one of their number get a deserving nod in the pantheon of foodie destinations.

No, the problem with the list is who’s not on it.  No G. Michael’s?  No Rigsby’s?  No Indian Oven?  No shiznite from the Green Meanie?  And what about Alana’s, or the Black Creek Bistro?  They’re all deserving choices, too.

A list of six just isn’t enough to do justice to the great foodie options in Columbus.  And one other thing about the Journal article:  it says Columbus isn’t well known for its dining scene — yet.  Says who, WSJ?

Cool Stuff Coming Up

Those of you who live in the Columbus area might want to mark your calendars for two cool events that are coming up in two weeks:  Independents’ Day 2014, and Open Streets Columbus.

Those of us lucky enough to work on Gay Street know Independents’ Day well.  For years, it’s been held on Gay Street, right in front of my office.  It’s a great event that gives the “independents” in Columbus — be they musicians, artists, businesses, food trucks, or just about anyone else who wants to claim the title — a chance to show what they’ve got to offer the community.

IMG_2936This year Independents’ Day is moving to Franklinton, the part of Columbus just across the Scioto River from downtown Columbus.  Franklinton is where Dinin’ Hall is found — so it’s a great place by simple association — but it’s also an area on the uptick, where people are willing to try new things.  Although we’ll miss Independents’ Day on Gay Street, I think it’s great that Franklinton is the new location, so people can get a look at this up-and-coming area and what it has to offer.  This year’s festivities will be held from September 19 through September 21.

And here’s a terrific new twist on Independents’ Day:  on September 21, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., Rich Street — between High Street in downtown Columbus and Starling Street in Franklinton — will be closed to vehicular traffic so that cyclists, walkers, joggers, skateboarders, and the casual strollers among us can walk down the street and across the new bridge.  They’re calling it Open Streets Columbus, and a chance to explore “a car-free urban playground.”  If you’ve never walked down the middle of a broad street and over a bridge without the thrum of traffic and the smell of exhaust affecting the experience, I can assure you it’s fun.

Dos Hermanos

IMG_2931Just because Labor Day weekend is here doesn’t mean that Food Truck Summer is over — at least, not yet.  Today Kish, Russell and I headed down to Dinin’ Hall on a beautiful blue sky day for another taste of the best Columbus’ mobile cuisine corps has to offer.  We found an impossible choice:  the Green Meanie, or Dos Hermanos?  Because I’ve already relished and celebrated the Green Meanie’s wonderful shiznite panko-crusted dog, this time we decided to head south of the border.

Let’s see, what to order?  Tacos, tamales, quesadilla, or a grande burrito?  Hmmm . . . well, we’re just going to have to declare a lunchtime exception to the no-carb/low-carb regimen and dig right in, aren’t we?  And when there is a dish with “grande” as part of the title, how can you possibly choose something else?  So three grande burritos it was, made with barbacoa and the works — although, in a sheepish nod to dietary discipline, I asked for mine without rice.

IMG_2925We promptly received three freshly made burritos that were approximately the size of a bodybuilder’s forearm.  How to eat them?  The thoughtful proprietors provided a fork that Kish — being a highly genteel person — politely used to good effect.  Russell and I, on the other hand, decided to eschew social convention and use the two-handed approach.  In my case, this was a thinly disguised excuse to lick my fingers and feel some of the juice from the combined ingredients run down my chin.  And what a combination!  The first heaping mouthful was grande, indeed, with pico delgallo, cilantro, sour cream and the other sauces mixing to pack a powerful flavor punch.  Whew!  For $8, the Dos Hermanos grande burrito has to be one of the great bargains in the Columbus food universe.

We shared Dinin’ Hall today with a large group from the United Way that was touring the Franklinton area.  One of that party asked another what Dos Hermanos met, and nodded approvingly when the response was “two brothers.”  I don’t speak Spanish, but I do know this:  those two brothers can cook.  Their truck is cool looking, too.

The Carne Frita From Teodora’s Kitchen

IMG_2406Yesterday Kish and I continued our Food Truck Summer with a visit to Dinin’ Hall, where we faced a very difficult choice between Herb n Food Truck and Teodora’s Kitchen.

Ultimately, the mouth-watering description of the Carne Frita from Teodora’s Kitchen tipped the balance:  Flank steak over lentils and basmati rice, served with fried plantains.  When we picked up our order the flank steak was still sizzling and piping hot, as well as tender and succulent.  With a heaping serving of rice and lentils, grilled onions and green peppers, some greens on top, five fried plantains that were only slightly smaller than the size of a manhole cover, and some chunky salsa, our containers runneth over with food.

Kish, who isn’t much of a meat eater, couldn’t finish all of her steak.  Fortunately, her dutiful husband was there, ready to ensure that she remained a member of the Clean Plate Club.  Sometimes husbands just have to take one for the team.  It was a beautiful, mild summer day, and the Dinin’ Hall venue, which opens out to the great outdoors, is a great place to sit and chat.  Thanks to the friendly proprietor, too, for wrangling two ice-cold bottles of water for us.

So far, Food Truck Summer has been a riot.

First Dinin’ Hall Of The Season

IMG_6193Today Kish and I went to Dinin’ Hall for the first time this summer.  The schedule has been limited to Thursdays and Fridays for the most part, but it’s still a great place to sample what Columbus’ finest food trucks have to offer.

Today we both went with Ayam Bakar from Aromaku.  What a great way to start the Food Truck Summer!  Grilled chicken with Indonesian spices over thin egg noodles, with hot sauce, some lime juice we squeezed on ourselves, and other goodies.  Just stunningly good, and served in the friendly confines of the Dinin’ Hall eating space in Franklinton.

Dinin’ Hall, we’ve missed you!  Aromaku, thanks for making the start of Food Truck Summer so succulent and special!

Thankful For The Porker

I am a huge fan of truth in advertising.  Tell me what you’ve got . . . really.  Don’t say you’re offering “luxury living,” for example, when you’re building apartments next to a gas station and a “gentlemen’s club.” 

IMG_1523So when Kish and I went to Dinin’ Hall today and I saw Kenny’s Meat Wagon, I was definitely hoping for some truth in advertising.  A meat wagon should either be a hearse or a culinary conveyance that offers lots and lots of savory, hearty, dripping on your chin protein.  I’m happy to report that Kenny’s Meat Wagon fell into the latter category — and how!

Kenny was behind the grill, so I asked him whether I should get the brisket special or the Porker.  He mentally flipped a coin and suggested the Porker.  It was an inspired choice — a roll stuffed to the gills with moist, succulent, piping hot pulled pork, topped with Carolina barbecue sauce, grilled onions and bacon.  That’s right . . . bacon.  No wonder it’s called the Porker.  I silently thanked the tasty swine that gave its all so that I could enjoy this fantastic sandwich.

Bab’s Down Home Cookin’ also was at Dinin’ Hall today.  Kish got the gumbo, and Bab’s graciously offered a side.  I prevailed on Kish to get the homemade macaroni and cheese, because it is the perfect complement to a pork feast.  It was excellent, buttery soft, cheesy, and hot.  My lunch consisted of alternating bites of the Porker and forkfuls of mac and cheese with a swig of water every now and then.  Kish swears I didn’t take a breath during the meal, which seemed to end much too soon.

Spoon Envy

IMG_1445On our way over to our weekly Dinin’ Hall visit, I remarked to Kish — and special guest Russell — that I had a serious hankering for a brothy noodle meal with, perhaps, some pork thrown in for good measure.

Oh, did the food gods ever answer my hungry prayer!  When we arrived the Mashita Noodles cart was there, and cooking.  Their homemade Ramen noodles were exactly what I was craving.  And what intriguing options, too!  I went for the spicy noodles, the Mashita bacon broth, and the Kool-Aid pulled pork.  That’s right — Kool-Aid pulled pork.  Like every Mashita bowl, it came with a soft-boiled egg and some thin cucumber slices on top.  I had to check it out, and I was willing to run the risk that a large, sweaty, anthropomorphic beverage pitcher would come crashing through the wall while I was enjoying my meal

It was an inspired combination and stuffed to the gills with moist, fall-apart, infused-with-broth pulled pork — so good that I found myself thinking strange thoughts as I used chopsticks, and then a plastic soup spoon, to pound it down.  Thoughts like:  why can’t Dinin’ Hall provide larger plastic spoons so I can eat this even faster?  And:  why do they have to make these plastic bowls with the annoying little ridge ringing the bottom, which makes it difficult to get at every last, savory drop?

As I write this, I recognize that I’ve raved about virtually every food item I’ve consumed at Dinin’ Hall.  So be it.  Their food truck vetting process must be flawless.  I’m beginning to suspect that Dinin’ Hall is like Italy — you just can’t get a bad meal there.

Cracklin’ Latkes

IMG_4837Don’t get me wrong.  I love beef brisket sandwiches as much as the next unreconstructed meatatarian.  So when Kish and the happy jogger and I visited Dinin’ Hall today and I saw that Challah was there, I was a happy camper.

And, I was right.  The brisket sandwich (on challah bread, of course) was succulent, juicy, and by itself worth a short trip over the Franklinton area to my favorite stopping place for our Columbus food truck friends.

But what really rocked my socks was the latkes I ordered to accompany my brisket.  They were unbelievably light and crispy, like eating a bird’s nest that had that subtle, indefinable, yet  forever lip-smacking potato flavor.  Even after adding some of the sour cream-based dipping sauce, I felt like the latkes could go floating away into the humid Franklinton air — and what a crunch!

Woo-hoo!  Challah, I want to see you again!

Rendang Prada From Aromaku

IMG_4804Last week I took Kish to Dinin’ Hall for the first time, and already she’s hooked.  Today we again headed to the Hall, where we had the good fortune to find Aromaku — another one of many great food trucks found in our fair city.

Aromaku serves Indonesian food, and it’s fantastic!  I ordered the Rendang Prada, which apparently is a traditional Indonesian dish.  It was so good that it made me wish that I was raised in an Indonesian family.

Rendang is a beef stew — rich, dark, and full of spices and dripping chunks of beef in a succulent gravy.  It’s served with Prada, which is a chewy kind of roti bread.  You spoon the rendang onto the prada, roll it up, and eat it like an egg roll.  At least, that’s how I gobbled it down in an embarrassing display of gluttony.

IMG_4806Rendang prada is one of those dishes that Food Network shows would say reflects Indonesia’s mix of cultures and influences from neighboring lands.  If so, it’s an awfully good mix.  I loved the taste, and also loved that the dish was served piping hot — so hot, in fact, that the prada left a mark on the stryofoam container it was served in.  Having the prada also allowed me to greedily mop up every last drop of that awesome rendang gravy.

Kish got the bakmi ayam, a dish of noodles and minced chicken, and loved it.  We also tried the Indo-Dutch ball — no doubt the authentic,native Indonesian name for the dessert — that was a kind of pastry filled with cheese.  It also was terrific.

Not surprisingly, Kish wants to make our Dinin’ Hall lunches a weekly feature.  Why not?  There’s lots of food left to discover.

Hot Noodles, Hot Day

IMG_1320It was a beastly hot day today — so what better thing to do for lunch than hike more than a mile across the river in the broiling sunshine to get to Dinin’ Hall?

The Unkempt Guy, the Bus-Riding Conservative and I decided to tough it out anyway.  We were intrigued by the fact that the Dinin’ Hall calendar showed that The Urban Pig and Mashita Noodles would be there dishing out food truck and food cart goodness.  Who can resist a food truck called The Urban Pig, with a capital “The”?  Obviously, this is not just any Urban Pig — it is The Urban Pig, just as OSU is The Ohio State University.

When three sweaty walkers finally arrived, however, we learned that The Urban Pig was not present.  It had succumbed to the bane of food trucks — a mechanical breakdown.  Our consternation was only momentary, however, because that meant we all got to eat the excellent noodle bowls served up by the friendly, hard-working folks at Mashita Noodles.  I had mine with shredded pork, to give a nod to The Urban Pig, and I ate every morsel and gladly spooned up the last drop of the traditional Japanese broth.  Surprisingly, a bowl of hot noodles, pork, cuke and radish slices, and broth goes down every well indeed on a hot day.

We savored our noodle bowls, our cold water, and the shady, fan-breezy atmosphere in Dinin’ Hall, then ventured out into the harsh glare and humidity once more.  By the time we got back to the office we were wilted and dripping and had decided that Dinin’ Hall might be past the outer walking limits on days when the thermometer hits the mid-90s.  That just means that, on the next stifling summer day, we’ll have to let the BRC suggest a bus route instead.

Crispy Pig Ears

IMG_3912In the never-ending quest for new and different Columbus food experiences, the Red Sox Fan and I journeyed to Dinin’ Hall today.  There we found the Swoop food truck and . . . pig ears.

Crispy pig ears, to be precise, with smoky lemon tartar sauce.  When I asked the food truck proprietor about that option, he stated, with admirable simplicity, that that statement described the dish as concisely and clearly as possible.  Initially the RSF and I resisted the temptation to sample the sensory organ of a swine, and I got the cheeseburger and chicken sliders instead — which were fantastic.  But the lure of the porcine auditory organ was too strong to resist, and we later gave in to our animal urges.  (Those of you who always eat the ears of chocolate Easter rabbits first may understand the primal forces driving our decision.)

The crispy pig ears turned out to be crunchy and delicious, and a fun thing to nosh on during a conversation.  Swoop — which describes itself as Columbus’ Emergency Hunger Response Team — clearly has made the short list of must-try Capital City food truck options.

In Grand Scale

IMG_3814The Greek scholar Proclus is reputed to have said that “the circle is the first, the simplest and most perfect form.”  I think he’s right.  There is no doubt that circles are an extremely pleasing shape to the eye.

So when I saw this grand, circular scale at the loading dock adjacent to the Dinin’ Hall eating area — a scale that boldly promises to give “honest weight” while weighing items that tip the scales at up to 2000 pounds — I had to take a picture.  The circle takes what would have been a humdrum piece of machinery and turns it into a work of industrial art.

Mai Chau And The Noodle Bowl Of Goodness

IMG_3817After walking through the Arts Festival yesterday, the Bus-Riding Conservative, the Unkempt Guy and I decided to hoof it over to the nearby Dinin’ Hall for lunch.  The UG had never been there, and the BRC and I decided it was high time to introduce him to the wonders of this cool Franklinton dining option.

I’m glad we stopped by, because I discovered a new and terrific Columbus food truck — Mai Chau – Eat Viet.  I decided to try the Noodle Bowl, and for $8 I was treated to a heaping bowl of vermicelli noodles, pulled pork, bean sprouts, cucumber slices, pickled carrots, daikon, cilantro, crushed peanuts, and fish sauce.  It was succulent — crunchy, delicately flavored, and filling, to boot — and I ate every bit of it.

I thought Mai Chau might be a bit of Vietnamese wordplay — a food truck with a name pronounced “my chow”? — but a little research shows that there is a region of north Vietnam called the Mai Chau Valley.  I don’t know if the proprietor of the food truck hails from there, but I hope he sticks around Columbus and becomes a regular part of the Dinin’ Hall rotation.