The Random Restaurant Tour — XXXVII

Yesterday the Soprano Litigator and I went across the street to Due Amici for lunch.  Due is one of the cornerstone restaurants in the food corridor that makes Gay Street the coolest street in downtown Columbus.  It’s a more high-end lunch spot than some of its Gay Street brethren and, come cocktail hour and dinner time, is a place to see and be seen.

I normally don’t have pizza for lunch, but yesterday pizza sounded like just what the doctor ordered.  I opted for the sausage and onion pizza, whereas the Soprano Litigator went with the veal meatball and pasta — which also looked very tasty, indeed.  When my pizza came, it was great, with a flavorful sauce, big chunks of sausage that had a snap when you bit into them, and a golden brown, crunchy crust.  I attacked it with gusto (and with knife and fork, incidentally, so as to avoid unsightly spotting on my suit, white shirt, and tie).

But here’s the thing:  the pizza is just too big for lunch.  Even for someone who is hungry, as I was, a pie with eight pieces is a lot.  Long after the SL had finished her meal I was still carving away at the remaining pieces until my plate was empty.  I suppose I could have asked for a to-go box, but I don’t like lugging them around.  In my view, when you order lunch you should receive a meal that is reasonably consumable by one reasonably hungry person over the noon hour.  In short, careful portion control is key.  Due’s pizza stretches the outer boundaries and is geared more to someone with the appetite of a truck driver rather than one of a nearby office worker.  Perhaps the name Due Amici — “two friends” in Italian — means the portions are intended to be shared.

Due isn’t alone in this.  How often have you gone to a restaurant and received a plate that is groaning with two much food — typically, an oversized mound of french fries to accompany an already sizable cheeseburger?  Even those of us who proudly boast of being charter members of the Clean Plate Club can’t possibly down so much food.  We leave some on the plate and then feel guilty about it, knowing the food will be wasted.  It’s an area where I think the great restaurants in Columbus could become even better.

The Random Restaurant Tour — XXXVI

In downtown Columbus, East Town Street is a bit of a no man’s land.  It’s a zone of generic three-story buildings filled with trade association offices and what may be America’s last functioning Holiday Inn.  But The Woodbury, a restaurant that opened recently in the Town Street food desert, is a sign that the direction of Town Street may be changing for the better.  Earlier this week The Red Sox Fan and I made the walk over to Town to check it out.

The Woodbury offers a pretty interesting menu that left the RSF and me thinking very carefully about our choices.  It serves breakfast all day, which is always welcome, because sometimes during the noon hour breakfast feels like the right option.  However, The Woodbury’s breakfast menu isn’t exactly traditional — that is, unless your idea of a traditional breakfast includes options like deep-fried PB&J or French toast casserole.  Its lunch menu is also delightfully quirky, offering choices like Ohio ravioli lasagna, Bulgogi, ratatouille — which is fun to say, even if you never order it — and a kimchi meatloaf sandwich.

The RSF went for the Bulgogi, which is served with kimchi and steamed edamame, and raved about the beef and the kimchi as he happily squeezed the edamame beans out of their steamed pods.  I opted for the brisket and biscuits and gravy with Texas toast and eggs over easy, shown above. It really hit the spot, and it was easy to assemble delicious forkfuls that included shards of brisket, pieces of biscuit, shredded hash browns, and bits of egg, bound together with a very smooth and rich gravy.  I note that the hash browns were shredded, which is the way hash browns should always be served — a rule that, alas, is too often observed in the breach — and that brisket and biscuits and gravy is the perfect transitional dish to order when your stomach is on the cusp between breakfast and lunch.  I left the plate spotless

The Woodbury interior offers a clean, bright setting with an open kitchen area, which I like.  The RSF and I were very impressed with the setting and the food, and vowed to return to help support the welcome changes to the Town Street trade association corridor.

The Random Restaurant Tour — XXXV

When it comes to lunch, I tend to be a creature of habit.  I like to walk and try to go somewhere where I can get some walking in as part of the lunch hour.  I think that probably explains why, until Friday, I’ve never tried lunch at Tiger + Lily, which is just down the block from our offices on Gay Street.

Tiger + Lily is an Asian-themed bistro, from the items on its menu to the Asian version of MTV playing on its TV screens during the lunch rush.  You can choose from a variety of entrees served over rice, or opt for noodles with or without broth.  If you go for one of the entree dishes, you choose between white and brown rice, and also can add intriguingly named sauces to add some zing to your meal.  According to our waiter, YumYum sauce is the most popular option, but there’s also Tiger Salsa, Gomayo, Tso Good, and K-Town.  (I’d say the person in charge of menu item naming at Tiger + Lily has a sense of humor.)

I opted for the Korean BBQ chicken, a mildly spicy combination of chicken and onion served over white rice.  I asked them to hold the pickled vegetables and add a fried egg as topping instead, and paired the food with K-Town sauce, which I think is the spiciest sauce T+L offers.  The result was a delightful and filling lunch that had a very pleasant kick to it.  And even though I didn’t get my lunchtime steps in, I burned a calorie or two wielding chopsticks in my quest to consume every last grain of K-Town dappled rice.

Tiger + Lily has a devoted following at our firm, which is how I ended up there on Friday.  The T+L fans all seem to have a personal favorite on the menu, and now I do, too.  Who knows?  Now that I’ve broken the ice, I might even try that YumYum sauce next time.

The Random Restaurant Tour — XXXIV

When a neighborhood restaurant closes, you want to see another dining venue move in so ample nearby lunchtime food options remain.  Those of us who toil in downtown Columbus therefore were happy to see that when Oliver’s on Lynn Alley closed its doors, it wasn’t long before another restaurant took its place.

The new restaurant is called Belly Burger, and the B.A. Jersey Girl and I paid it a visit on its opening day.  I’m not sure that Belly Burger is the greatest name — it definitely made me wonder whether, from a fitness, weight, and waistline perspective, I should really be gobbling down another lunchtime burger — but if Pot Belly Sandwiches can be a thriving business, having “Belly” in the name clearly is not a barrier to restaurant success.

Belly Burger offers a limited menu, so you’re not overwhelmed with choices.  There are burgers, and there is a chicken sandwich, and you can get fries — and that’s about it in the food category.  You can also order a Cheerwine slushee (Cheerwine being a southern soft drink that tastes somewhat like a Dr. Pepper), milkshakes, or soft drinks in the beverage category, and Belly Burger has a full bar, too.  In fact, you can combine the slushee or milkshakes with a liquor of your choice to make them “boozy.”

The BAJG and I passed on any boozy beverages and went straight for the burgers and fries.  The Belly Burger burger was large, juicy, cheesy, and excellent in every respect.  I particularly want to give B.B. a hat tip on the bun, which was buttery and soft on top, well-toasted and crunchy next to the meat, and very flavorful in its own right.  The fries similarly were crunchy and well-textured and in a reasonable portion.  And the friendly bartender offered us a taste of the Cheerwine slushee, in its unboozy form, so we could toast Belly Burger’s grand opening.  I’m not a fan of slushees generally, but if you like them I’d guess you’d enjoy the B.B. Cheerwine version.

Welcome to the ‘hood, Belly Burger!  The burger fans among us are glad you’re here.

The Curious Case Of The Deer On The Bridge

When Kish and I walked to Franklinton on Sunday, we crossed the Scioto River on the Town Street bridge. Just after the midpoint of the bridge we found this life-sized metal sculpture of a fully antlered buck standing upright at the railing of the bridge, facing north.

It’s a fine rendition of a deer. But the sculpture raises so many questions that it’s almost a mystery worthy of Sherlock Holmes. Why is there a sculpture of a deer standing on its hind legs on a downtown bridge in Columbus, Ohio?

Is the deer just enjoying a nice view of the Columbus skyline and the Scioto River in its new channel? Or is the trophy buck using the vantage point of the bridge to scan for hunters or predators? On the darker side, could the deer be depressed and preparing to jump? Is there some deep significance to the fact that the deer is facing north, or that it is a stag rather than a doe? For that matter, why a deer at all? I can’t think of any special connection between Ohio’s capital city and deer. If a wolverine were preparing to hurl itself into oblivion at the sight of Columbus, in contrast, it would be understandable.

Experts will tell you that a good test of public art is whether it provokes thought and discussion. By that standard, the curious case of the deer on the bridge is a great success. And for that same reason, I’m not going to even try to scan the internet for an explanation. I’m just going to leave it a mystery.

Getting Rid Of A Bad Merge

One of those temporary electric traffic signs has been rolled into place to give Columbus motorists some important news and another reason to be thankful as we head toward Thanksgiving:  the eastbound ramp from Third Street onto the combined I-70/I-71 highway is closing, permanently, on November 25.  Drivers who use the ramp to get from downtown out to Bexley and points east are going to have to find another route.

The closure of the ramp will be an inconvenience for some motorists, no doubt, but getting rid of the ramp will be a really good thing from a traffic safety and flow standpoint.  In fact, the ramp is part of one of those weird, inexplicable, irrational traffic patterns that really never should have developed in the first place.  Drivers leaving downtown come barreling down Third Street, heading south, when the street splits into three different flows, with one lane heading south into German Village, one lane turning left onto Livingston Avenue, and two lanes taking an abrupt left turn down to the highway.  Those two lanes then immediately merge into one lane — which makes you wonder why they were designed to be two lanes to begin with — at the same time drivers are supposed to be merging, on the left, into the traffic rushing past on the highway.

It’s a recipe for a bottleneck, and that’s exactly what it is.  Drivers who don’t know Columbus are baffled about where to go and are regularly shifting lanes at the last minute, the hard left turn means you’ve got people jamming on the brakes and then speeding up to match the speed of the traffic on the highway, and the virtually simultaneous merges while cars are trying to get onto a busy highway always cause delays, and sometimes cause accidents.  Is a driver supposed to focus on the merging lane from the right, or the merge onto the highway to the left?

Columbus is a great town, but some of the core downtown traffic design is desperately in need of updating.  Eliminating the Third Street merge is a good start.