“Fair Style” As An Adjective

A restaurant located near our firm, OH Pizza + Brew, features this sign about its dessert options in the restaurant’s front window. To some, no doubt, the phrasing seems odd. But to anyone who has been to the Ohio State Fair, and has eaten “fair food” along the midway, a reference to “fair style” desserts conveys a powerful message indeed.

What is a “fair style” dessert, exactly? Typically, it has multiple characteristics. First, of course, it must involve food stuffs that are bad for you, prepared in a way that accentuates their unhealthy impact. That means desserts that are fried, that are high in sugar, and that include components from Dr. Nick’s “neglected food groups” pyramid shown on a classic Simpsons episode.

Second, the dessert must be excessive. That means the portions must be huge—think of a piece of fried dough as big as a dinner plate—and the dessert must features unholy combinations that push the caloric content off the charts. Fried Snickers bars on top of ice cream in fried dough might be one element, for example, but you’re going to want to add, say, pieces of candied bacon dipped in chocolate, whipped cream, drizzled caramel, and then drop M&Ms and Reese’s Pieces on top, just to give the concoction a real fair flair.

And finally, a true “fair style” dessert must be plausibly, if messily, portable, and capable of being consumed by someone walking on a dusty path between ancient rides like the Tilt-a-Wheel. That means handheld options, like red hot elephant ears doused in powdered sugar and the covered with other goodies that will leave your hands gross and sticky for hours, or desserts that can be wedged into a cheap cone or flimsy paper bowl that will immediately begin to dissolve as the dessert quickly melts in the summer sun.

That’s what a “fair style” dessert means to me, at least. I haven’t been into OH Pizza + Brew to see what they offer. Frankly, I’m kind of afraid to check it out.

Messing With The Traffic

The south part of downtown Columbus is like a traffic engineer’s playground. It seems like somebody is always messing with the streets, bridges, and access ramps, throwing unexpected curve balls at motorists and pedestrians alike.

The latest initiative is part of a long-term effort to fundamentally change how people leaving downtown get on I-70 East. For years drivers came down Third Street (one way heading south, throughout downtown) and could turn right onto a ramp onto 70 West or left onto a ramp onto 70 East. The ramps were short for freeway access, and the merging happened in a congested area in which I-71 also intersected with I-70. So some time ago traffic engineers closed the 70 East ramp off Third Street and devised a plan to route people down little-used Fulton Street to access the freeway. Now that plan has reached fruition.

There’s just one problem: the grand plan has changed Fulton Street between Third and Fourth Streets from one way heading west to one way heading east. That isn’t great for those of us in German Village, because it doesn’t allow us to use Fulton to access 70 West, but it has really messed with the heads of downtown drivers and turned the entrance to German Village into an orange cone zone with an extensive and baffling array of signs about signal changes, lane changes, street direction changes, and detours. Because many drivers are on autopilot on their commutes, following the same routes they’ve followed for years, we’ve seen people heading the wrong way on Fulton, accidents, traffic backups and snarls, and lots of confusion.

At some point drivers will work this out, I expect, and the cones and signs will go away as traffic adjusts to its new flow. But then the traffic engineers will run their hands together with evil glee and throw a new wrench into the commuting machine, and the cones and signs—and rampant driver confusion—will reappear. That’s just the way traffic engineers roll.

The Random Restaurant Tour — XLII

Some locations seem like a revolving door for restaurants. A place will open, start offering its wares, and then before you know it a new restaurant has replaced it. The location at 72 Lynn Alley, in the heart of downtown Columbus, is one of those locations where dogged restauranteurs keep trying.

The new eatery at that location is called Aroma, and Dr. Science and I went there yesterday to check it out. Aroma is a Mediterranean venue with an extensive menu of appetizers, entrees, sandwiches, and pizzas made with a cauliflower crust. The Doc and I opted for handheld lunches—no cauliflower for me, thank you very much!—and I got the braised lamb wrap. It was quite good, packed with tender and juicy lamb that was delicately seasoned, and came with a mound of crisp and crunchy fries that were a lot more than I could eat. All in all, it was a considerable lunch at a reasonable price point. The server was pleasant and professional and the seating area is spacious, allowing Dr. Science to gesture freely as he lectured me on the delta variant in authoritative tones.

In short, Aroma looks well-suited to giving it a go, undeterred by the ghosts of Si Senor and other former residents of the space. I’d definitely go back for another one of those lamb wraps.

Deboarding Downtown

Before the election, there were cautions about potential unrest in downtown Columbus during the period while votes were being counted. Most of the businesses in the downtown area put plywood over their street-level windows for protection against rock throwing, just in case. The boarded-up windows, which tend to attract graffiti, gave the downtown area a creepy, apocalyptic feel that matched, and maybe enhanced, the general sense of trepidation many people had about the whole election period.

Yesterday I went downtown for work and was glad to see that the plywood had been taken down from many of the buildings, while removal efforts were underway at still other buildings like the one shown in the photo above. Two weeks after the election, businesses evidently feel that the danger of civic unrest has passed and that it’s time to get back to normal. I was happy to see that development, because reflective windows are a lot nicer to walk by than plywood.

I’ve always been a believer in the “broken windows” theory, which posits that physical surroundings can send cues about expected behavior. Boarded-up buildings send a very distinctive message, whereas businesses that have removed the boards and are happy to let the sun shine in send a different message entirely. And although normally I’m the first person to question holiday decorations that are put up too early, this year I won’t mind seeing festive trimmings put up on downtown buildings, even if they go up before Thanksgiving. They will be a tangible sign that the election is behind us, the holidays (and the end of 2020) are on the horizon, and it’s time to move forward.

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.

 

The Random Restaurant Tour (XXXII)

When a new place opens up downtown, you’ve got to try it.  But the first time I stopped by Nosh on High for lunch, it had a 20-minute wait and I was in a hurry, so we went to a nearby establishment instead.  A 20-minute wait, for lunch!  Is that because it’s getting the new restaurant rush, or because the food is really good?  I had to find out, so yesterday we tried again — and persistence paid off.  There was a 15-minute wait for tables, but there was room at the bar, so I finally got to sample what this new joint has to offer.

Nosh on High is located in the space formerly occupied by Cup O Joe, in the old Lazarus building on High Street.  Its website emphasizes its tapas, which look tasty and quite elegant, besides, but the lunch menu has a more basic orientation — including sandwiches that Nosh calls “handhelds.”  

I asked our friendly bartender for a recommendation, and she suggested the Philly dip or the duck BLT.  I flipped a mental coin and went for the Philly, pictured above.  It’s a terrific, hearty sandwich, with plenty of shaved beef on a crunchy french roll, covered in a delectable moray sauce that is cheesy and bursting with all kinds of flavor.  And if you want even more kick for your sandwich (and who doesn’t?) you can dip it in the mini-soup bowl of sauce that Nosh generously provides.  The sauce has a delectable, subtle flavor that works well with the sandwich — because when you’re eating a dip, the wetter the better — but also with the spicy Nosh potatoes that are part of the meal.  In all, you get a lot of high-quality chow for $12.  

The Philly dip is only one of several enticing lunch-time options, the dinner menu looks very strong, and they’ve done a good job of kitting out the old Cup O Joe space to look like a kind of upscale Manhattan bistro.  So Nosh is posh, to be sure, but it hits the spot with its food fare.  I’ll be adding Nosh on High to the lunchtime rotation.

Feel-Good Flowerpot

In Columbus, our mysterious messenger continues to distribute upbeat thoughts here and there in the downtown area. I noticed this pendant of purple positivity in one of the large concrete flowerpots in front of Mitchell’s Steakhouse as I was navigating through the flowerpots and pedestrian traffic on my way home this week.

What’s really going on here, with all of these uplifting messages?  Are we talking about one devotee of Norman Vincent Peale, or are we in a cascade effect where other people have caught the bug and decided to post some happy thoughts around town?  And why have they decided that Columbus should be the target for these relentless positive messages — as opposed to, say, Washington, D.C.?

Can a brightly colored stone with an inspirational thought in a downtown flowerpot make a difference?  Beats me!  But it can’t hurt, and it’s nice to know that somebody out there cares enough about the rest of us to make the attempt.

The Random Restaurant Tour — XXXI

It’s a tough assignment when a new restaurant occupies the space of an old, beloved, now-closed restaurant.  It’s even tougher when the space being occupied is so iconic that both the new restaurant and the old restaurant took their name from the space itself.

That’s the challenge for the Flatiron Tavern, which opened this month at the northern edge of downtown Columbus.  It’s located in the Flatiron building — a skinny, multi-story brick structure — and it replaces the Flatiron Bar & Diner, which was one of my favorite lunch spots and also a pretty good place to have a beer on a Friday afternoon after work.  The old Flatiron was known, by me at least, for its interesting, Cajun-infused menu and specials and its consistent ability to deliver one of the very best cheeseburgers in town.  It was a sad day indeed when the old Flatiron suddenly shut its doors — but my great experienced with the old venue also made me eager to give the new spot a good early look.

The Bus-Riding Conservative and I legged it over to the Flatiron Tavern yesterday for lunch.  I was glad to see that the space looks pretty much the same — with the exception of a some TVs added to the walls, which thankfully were not playing at high volume — and that at least one of the old Flatiron staff members was manning his familiar station behind the fine old wooden bar.  When the BRC and I got there the place was packed, which was a good sign, so we sat at the bar.

The Flatiron Tavern menu is a bit more limited than the old Flatiron carte, and there wasn’t the blackboard with specials that the old restaurant featured.  So be it!  Not surprisingly, I ordered a cheeseburger, which is served with chips.  In my book, the cheeseburger is a pretty good test of a new restaurant.  This cheeseburger didn’t reach the exalted level of the prior Flatiron burger, but it was perfectly good — and the next time I’m going to get a double.  It’s pretty clear, too, that the new restaurant is still working out the kinks, with the staff hustling like crazy and things taking just a bit longer than they will when routines are established.  

Still, it’s good to see an iconic space filled again, adding to our downtown dining options.  I’ll be back.

The Random Restaurant Tour — XXX

We just got some significant restaurant news in Columbus — the long-empty space that once was occupied by the Deepwood restaurant, directly across from the Columbus Convention Center, is going to become a huge new Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.

8-oz-strip-steak_medWhat’s the big deal, you ask?  After all, there are Ruth’s Chris Steakhouses spread across the land.  So who cares if one comes to Columbus?

The answer is this:  with the addition of this new steakhouse, there will be four premium steakhouses in the core downtown Columbus area — Mitchell’s, the Hyde Park Grille, Jeff Ruby’s, and now Ruth’s Chris, all within easy walking distance of each other.  And if your taste runs to Brazilian-style steakhouses, there’s one of those in the core downtown area, too.

The better question is why Columbus seems to have such an appetite for steakhouses.  Do Midwesterners just crave a good steak as a matter of course?  Or, as I suspect, does it have something to do with the hotel and convention and business traveler activity in downtown Columbus, and the notion that travelers looking for a place to have dinner figure a top-end steakhouse is a good, safe option — especially if they are traveling on an expense account?  If Ruth’s Chris is coming to an area that already is well-served with steakhouses, they must think there is a demand for even more dry-aged beef.

As a steak lover, I’m all for steakhouse options, but four seems like too many.  Whatever the reason for the steakhouse overload, I’d like to see some new restaurants that give us a bit of a wider range in the downtown dining options — like a really good Chinese place, or an Ethiopian joint.  Steak is great, but diversity is even better.