The Random Restaurant Tour — LI

We’ve been waiting patiently for a new restaurant to open in the Gay Street District, in a spot formerly occupied by an Irish pub. The sign has been up for ESCO Restaurant and Tapas for a while now, the interior work has been done, and lately I’ve seen some activity in the place as I’ve walked past, but a look at the restaurant’s website indicated the Grand Opening wouldn’t be until this coming Friday. Yesterday, though, as we were on a stroll to the library to return some books, we saw a sign indicating that ESCO would be serving brunch. On our return trip we decided to stop in to check the place out.

I like it when I get an nice surprise, and this was a pleasant surprise, indeed. The restaurant decided to do a soft opening to work the kinks out before the formal Grand Opening on Friday, so we got an advance look at the restaurant and a chance to taste ESCO’s wares. You can see the menu and other information about ESCO Columbus–the third ESCO restaurant, following two established in the Atlanta, Georgia area–here.

The brunch menu is tantalizing, indeed. Although I engaged in a vigorous internal debate about whether I was hungry enough to try the chops and eggs, I opted for the seafood and grits. ESCO offers the option of shrimp, catfish, or lobster tail, and you can get them either fried or grilled. I chose the traditional form of shrimp and grits served with grilled shrimp. Kish, meanwhile, got the fried chicken and red velvet waffles.

The shrimp and grits were, in a word, fantastic, and looked so delicious that I immediately dug in and started eating before I remembered to take the photo above. The grits were well prepared, the sauce was buttery and included gouda cheese, which gives it a very smooth, delicate flavor, and my plate was loaded with plump, succulent shrimp–so many that you could easily enjoy a piece of shrimp with every bite of grits. This dish was a definite keeper. Kish reported that her chicken and waffles were also excellent, and came in such a heroic portion that there was plenty to take home and enjoy during the rest of our Sunday. As for me, I finished every bit of my shrimp and grits, and found myself wondering whether I would have some fried catfish instead the next time I try that dish.

It’s always a cause for celebration when a new restaurant opens on Gay Street, to help maintain its reputation as the coolest street in downtown Columbus. When the new place serves great food, and offers options like shrimp and grits that aren’t currently available from our other local eateries, the celebration meter goes even higher. I’m happy to welcome ESCO Restaurant and Tapas to the neighborhood, and look forward to continuing my culinary exploration there. I’m sensing a lunch there will be in my immediate future.

Throwback Windows

Yesterday I was walking past the former downtown Lazarus building when I noticed that two of the original display windows had been decorated for the holidays, as would have been done back when the Lazarus department store actually occupied the space. The two windows definitely give off a throwback Christmas vibe, with the ankle-deep cotton ball snow, the gold ornaments and fixtures, and the carefully placed mannequins dramatically displaying the women’s dresses and coats.

I think these are now the only two of the display windows that remain, but in the old days there was a row of them, and people would actually make the trip downtown just to check out the new goods that were featured in the the windows. In all likelihood, they would then go inside the Lazarus to see Santa and do some shopping–just like what is shown in the scenes of A Christmas Story. The display windows were a great form of point-of-purchase advertising, and a good window designer could definitely increase sales. Equally important, no kid’s Christmas list was complete until they had taken a look at the department store display windows to see whether there was something cool there that should be added.

I’m glad to see that these two display windows survived, even though the Lazarus department store is long gone and the building itself has become a kind of multi-purpose office space. I’m sure the cotton ball manufacturers are grateful, too.

The Random Restaurant Tour — L

Yesterday Dr. Science and I decided to brave the fierce winds on a cold, gusty day to head south for lunch. Our destination was the always cool Westin Great Southern Hotel–the oldest hotel in downtown Columbus–and a new restaurant called Bar Cicchetti that has opened in the hotel’s footprint to serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Bar Cicchetti is in some reconfigured space at the Great Southern. There always was a bar there–what would be a hotel, really, without a bar?–but now they’ve opened a new room that is located just past the bar area. The room is spacious and bright and looks out over High Street. Dr. Science and I sat at a window table to fully revel in that urban lunch vibe.

The lunch menu has a lot of options that should appeal to just about everyone, from salads and pizza and pastas to handhelds–including a concoction featuring charred broccolini (involuntary shudder). Although the pizza and pasta options were intriguing, I found myself to be in a fried frame of mind, so I opted for the Milanese Chicken sandwich, shown above, and had them hold the lettuce and pickles. My choice was a winner. The chicken breast was so enormous it spilled over the sides of the bun, and it was crunchy outside, with just the right amount of breading, and moist inside. Topped with pickled onions and a nifty aioli, it was delicious. I also give Bar Cicchetti credit for providing a reasonable amount of fries, which were dusted with some freshly grated parmesan and very tasty, too. The fries were so delectably enticing that Dr. Science, always ready for a food experiment, couldn’t resist swiping a few from my plate as he gulped down his salumi sandwich.

I don’t think the word of mouth about Bar Cicchetti has spread yet, because there weren’t many patrons there when we visited. Perhaps this post will help to acquaint people with this fine new food option in the south part of downtown, which is well worth a visit. I’ll be coming back to try one of those pizzas.

By the way, in preparing this post I note that this is the 50th edition of the Random Restaurant Tour series, which began in 2017 and somehow managed to bridge the COVID pandemic and the shutdown period. Thanks to the B.A. Jersey Girl, Dr. Science, the Bus-Riding Conservative, JV, and all of the others who have accompanied me on these culinary adventures, and to everyone who has read them!

The Random Restaurant Tour — XLIX

Yesterday the B.A. Jersey Girl and I were looking for a lunch close to the office, because it was a day when work commitments strictly hemmed in our lunch hours. The B.A.J.G. suggested that we head over to Freedom a la Cart, located about two blocks from the firm at 123 Spring Street in downtown Columbus. It’s a place I’ve been meaning to try, because Freedom a la Cart combines catering and in-restaurant food services with workforce training for local survivors of human trafficking. You can read about the business and its important mission here,

When we arrived at Freedom yesterday, the place was hopping with diners and carry-out customers. Fortunately, we lucked out and a table opened just as we made our orders and looked for a seat. And the orders were a tough call, because the cafe menu offers an array of breakfast items and sandwiches, as well as bowls and salads. Admittedly, dodging the bowls and salads was not a tough call for me, but I wrestled with the choice between the Don’t Judge Me sandwich, the Monte Cristo sandwich, the bacon quiche, and the grilled three-cheese sandwich.

After careful deliberation, I chose the Don’t Judge Me, which featured roasted chicken, two different kinds of aioli, Swiss cheese, a mound of arugula, and on-the-sandwich potato chips on toasted sourdough bread. That’s the sandwich in the photo above, and you can see one rogue potato chip that escaped from the sandwich when a server set it down. The D.J.M. was an excellent combination of flavors and textures–the crunchy potato chips were a distinctive touch–and fun to eat, too. The B.A. Jersey Girl went for the bacon quiche, which looked light and delicate and flaky and almost made me regret my choice, until I considered that the quiche came with a salad. Since I pride myself on membership in the Clean Plate Club at lunch time, it was wise to give the quiche a pass. With the D.J.M., there was no challenge whatsoever in scarfing down every bit.

It’s a nice thing when a local restaurant is dedicated to a good cause and serves really good food, besides. Freedom a la Cart will be going onto the standard lunch rotation, for sure. Next time I visit, I think I’m going to give the Monte Cristo a try.

The Random Restaurant Tour — XLVIII

It’s autumn, folks — a beautiful and wonderful time of year in central Ohio (especially when compared to, say, winter). There are many great restaurants in the Columbus area where you might celebrate this season, and we decided to head to one of the finest — Veritas — to enjoy its autumn tastings menu. That’s because some of the best things about fall are the foods and flavors that are available to be enjoyed this time of year.

Veritas is, in a word, fabulous. It’s the kind of restaurant that you like to take out-of-towners to, because you know they will leave with a positive impression of our city and its culinary attributes. The food at Veritas is reliably spectacular, filled with interesting flavor and textural combinations, and a treat for the eyes, besides. Add in a welcoming ambiance, and nice attention to every little detail that can move a meal from great to greater, and you’ve got a restaurant that can do autumn, or any season, proud.

The Veritas autumn menu is five courses. You start with a mandatory broccoli and cheddar cheese tart, then make your choices from options for the other courses. Starting with a broccoli dish was a challenge for me, because in my view it is one of the most unholy, vile, unpleasant smelling and foul tasting vegetables in the land of greenery. Any yet, the wizards in the Veritas kitchen found a way to minimize the broccoli flavor and cushion it delectably in a flaky crust and a mound of cheddary scrumptiousness. When a culinary genius can turn a food you loathe into something that you would gladly eat again, it leaves you ready for more.

For the next course I went for the carrot, yogurt, and curry leaf soup, which thick, and rich, and creamy, and introduced me to multi-colored carrots that I had not seen before. Let’s just way that these were not Bugs Bunny’s kind of carrots. And speaking of hares, the follow-up dish was a rabbit, paprika, and creme fraiche combination that featured some delectable dumplings and perfectly cooked, supremely tender rabbit. That triumph was followed by the filet medallions shown above, framed with multiple kinds of potatoes, and a root beer infused sauce that I would have gladly eaten straight with a spoon–except it went incredibly well with the spot-on medium rare meat. The different kinds of potatoes were wonderful, too.

We ended our fall feast with the almond, banana, and sourdough concoction seen below, which is the best dessert I’ve had in a long, long time. What’s that, you say? Bananas aren’t an autumnal dish? To that I say you’re wrong, because any Midwesterner knows that the fall season is full of surprises, Just as the weather can suddenly turn cold, or warm, or blustery with rain, so can a banana creation suddenly grace a fine meal.

The autumn menu at Veritas was so good that I want to go back again, to try some of the dishes I didn’t choose this time around. If the chef can make broccoli an enjoyable treat, even cauliflower is worth a try. in fact, the seasonal tasting menu almost makes me look forward to what winter might bring.

The End Of The Newspaper Boxes

On Sunday I walked to the library, and as I returned I saw this fellow working on one of the combination newspaper boxes in downtown Columbus, at the corner of Gay and Fourth Streets. After wondering what the heck he was doing, kneeling with his head inside one of the boxes, I realized he was working with his power tools to remove the box. And I also realized that with the efforts of that kneeling guy, the story arc of downtown newspaper boxes in downtown Columbus comes to an end–not that most people will notice, or care.

Once the downtown areas of cities like Columbus were dotted with colorful newspaper boxes, where you could insert a coin to get that day’s edition. It wasn’t only the daily newpapers that used the boxes as delivery devices, though–weekly and monthly newspapers and other publications did, too. Many city streets featured multiple red, yellow, and blue boxes, often strategically located near coffee shops, bus stops, subway stations, barber shops, or other places where people might want some reading material.

In Columbus, the city planners must have decided that multiple boxes were a bit unsightly and cheap looking, because they put up these cumbersome black multi-unit boxes at certain street corners to concentrate the publications in one spot, and the bright stand-alone boxes vanished. At about the same time, the surge in use of the internet, laptops, and cell phones caused the number of print publications to plummet to near zero. As a result, rather than holding newspapers or other materials, the combination boxes were left empty and sad-looking–that is, when they weren’t filled with trash or a desolate beer bottle left by a downtown reveler. I imagine that some curious younger people who work downtown have idly wondered about the real intended purpose of those clunky, debris-filled boxes.

Now the combination boxes are gone, the corner at Gay and Fourth is freed of its burden, and perhaps people will put trash into actual trash cans again. Newspaper boxes, like phone booths and parking meters, are purely a thing of days gone by.

The Random Restaurant Tour — XLVI

Sometimes, you just find yourself in a hot dog frame of mind–and a little curious, besides. That’s why the Bus-Riding Conservative and I found ourselves in Tasty Dawg yesterday for lunch. Located catty-corner from the Ohio Statehouse close to the intersection of High and State Streets, Tasty Dawg is a place the BRC and I had each passed dozens of times without going in, and we wondered what it was like. Yesterday, our frankfurter appetites stimulated by the baseball playoffs, we decided to change that.

Tasty Dawg is all about hot dogs, in all their glory. It offers an array of different kinds of hot dog concoctions, which you stand in line to order, ultimately taking a tray back to a table of your choosing. If you were interested in a little weiner experimentation, the options would merit careful study. Fortunately, I don’t go in for jalapeno peppers, pickles, tomatoes, sauerkraut, or any of the other oddball topping options that can interfere with enjoyment of a tube steak. Instead, my target was a simple chili dog with cheese–well, two of them, actually–which I consider to be a crucial red-hot baseline. The BRC, who always walks a little closer to the culinary wild side, actually got a frank that had corn niblets on it, as part of some unholy combination. Corn on a hot dog just seems wrong, but I digress.

After the dog of your choice is assembled on a pretzel bun, it is placed into a nifty steamer machine, which in the case of my chili and cheese dog ensured an appropriate degree of cheesy meltiness. I added a side of white cheddar mac n’ cheese and a bottled water to complete my order. Be prepared: Tasty Dawg is a bit on the pricey side (at least, based on my expectations, but then I haven’t been to a hot dog joint in years). All told, my order came to more than $20. The BRC saved a few shekels by skipping the side and opting for tap water, so his two dogs were rung up for about $17. Tasty Dawg also offers Velvet ice cream, incidentally, but for the sake of dietary self-respect neither of use had any.

My chili cheese dogs were good. The dogs were meaty and had the desired snap to their casings, the chili sauce was thick and rich, the melted cheese had that nice cheddar tang, and the pretzel bun offered appropriate structural support. There was such a generous allotment of chili and cheese that after an initial in-hand bite I decided that prudence demanded a knife-and-fork approach. The mac n’ cheese side was creamy and quite good, too. As for the bottled water, it was wet.

If you’re in a hot dog frame of mind, Tasty Dawg will allow you to thoroughly scratch that itch. And if you’re in a hot dog and Velvet ice cream frame of mind, prepare yourself for an afternoon nap.

The Random Restaurant Tour — XLV

Toraya Moroccan Cuisine, located at 72 East Lynn Street less than a block from the Ohio Statehouse, is a new establishment that holds itself out as the first authentic Moroccan restaurant, serving halal food, in downtown Columbus. Dr. Science and I are always on the lookout for new ethnic food options, so yesterday we rambled over on a cool fall day to give Toraya a try for lunch.

In addition to the Moroccan cuisine, a few things about Toraya are very distinctive. First, it’s a white tablecloth set-up, which you don’t see that often in a lunch spot. Second, rather than a menu, you get handed a business card with a QR code so you can call up the menu on your cellphone, so don’t forget to bring yours. And third, the menu, which you can see here, offers food at a wide spectrum of price points–ranging from tagine dishes for less than $10, to sandwiches for under $15, to tagine dishes between $20 and $25. Dr. Science and I, appetites stimulated by the fine fall weather and a spirited discussion of just how cool NASA’s DART mission was, decided to go for something on the high end of the price scale.

I opted for the meatballs tagine–because who wouldn’t want meatballs for lunch?–and Dr. Science chose the chicken tagine. A tagine is a pyramid-like clay pot with a vent on top, as shown above, that is used in cooking the dish. Our meal started with a piping hot pot of honey-sweetened tea, which you pour into small glasses, Moroccan-style. And when our orders came, we learned that Toraya doesn’t scrimp on the food. I got a hefty portion of meatballs, very attractively presented in a colorful tagine, a bowl of saffron rice, and a basket of pita bread, as well as a piece of candy. Dr. Science’s portion was equally large. We agreed that you could easily share these dishes, or take some home to reheat for dinner, but since we were both famished we laid into our food with gusto and finished it all, except for the mound of pita bread.

My meatballs were great, and not overcooked as is often the case with meatballs. They came in a red sauce that had a very good flavor that paired well with the saffron rice. I first ate them by forking a meatball, some sauce, and some rice onto one of the quarters of pita bread to create a de facto sandwich, which was a tasty, messy, and fun way to eat the food. Dr. Science sampled some of the meatballs, and I tried a wedge of his chicken tagine dish, which was tender and mildly seasoned and also tasted good on the pita. After a while, I decided to ditch the pita so as not to fill myself up and just went straight for the meatball and rice combo, and that was a satisfying culinary experience, too.

When we finished, Dr. Science and I agreed that we would definitely come back to Toraya. We hope we’ll have the chance to do so, because the 72 East Lynn location is a bit of a revolving door for restaurants; we’d tried the predecessor in that spot, called Aroma, only a year ago, and now it is gone and Toraya has taken its place. We’re hoping that Toraya succeeds where others have failed, because it’s nice to have a little Moroccan flavor in downtown Columbus.

Downtowns, Up And Down

COVID still lingers–it seems like everyone has a friend or family members who has gotten it recently, or been exposed–and it’s looking like we’re just going to have to learn to live with it, long term. In the meantime, people are still trying to assess the impact of the shutdowns in various areas. One point of focus is looking at how cities–and specifically, their downtown areas–are doing in their efforts to bounce back from the prolonged 2020-2021 COVID shutdown periods.

A team of researchers at the University of California, Berkeley tried to answer that question by using a new form of measurement of activity. Rather than looking at an old-school measurement like office occupancy rates, however, they decided to look at cell phone user location data to see how many people have been going to the downtown areas in 62 American cities, and compare the data from pre-pandemic 2019 to the data for 2022.

The research team then used the data to calculate a “recovery quotient” for each of the 62 cities. The news isn’t good for many American cities, leading the research team to provocatively title their policy brief “The Death of Downtown?” Some cities, like San Francisco, have RQs that indicate that current downtown activity is only a small fraction of pre-pandemic levels. Happily, downtown Columbus is an outlier, with an RQ of 112, meaning that downtown activity in 2022 is above 2019 levels. That results puts downtown Columbus at the top of the list of large cities and third overall, behind only the downtown areas of Salt Lake City and Bakersfield.

The paper identifies various correlated explanatory variables for the different RQ scores, including the nature and mix of downtown jobs and the prevalence of remote work, commuting and public transportation issues, and the availability of downtown living space. The paper also notes the possibility of rethinking downtown areas and creating event spaces and destination areas to spur activity. Columbus has done a good job addressing these areas–particularly adding to the residential stock in the downtown area and placing sports venues, like Huntington Park shown in the photo above, in the city core–so I’m not surprised it scored well.

Policymakers have been predicting the death of downtown areas for decades but they are still here; I therefore wouldn’t be too quick to shovel dirt on downtowns. But the Berkeley analysis indicates that the COVID shutdown periods hit downtown areas hard. City leaders will need to focus on how to increase activity in their city cores as we move into the phase of learning to live with COVID.

When Scooters Really Suck

If you want to understand why urban dwellers like me really don’t like scooters, here’s a good example. This scene greeted me this morning as I walked to work. A gaggle of scooters was left willy-nilly in an already narrow part of the sidewalk, leaving the luckless pedestrian to navigate through the openings and at the same time accommodate people approaching from the opposite direction. And incidentally, by the time this afternoon rolled around, some of the scooters had been knocked over, making the sidewalks even more blocked. Would it have really been so hard for the scooter users to simply park their discarded vehicles a few feet away in Pearl Alley, where there was plenty of room?

What is it with scooter users? Are they so focused on their own, intrinsic, scooter-riding coolness that they just don’t feel bound by the same rules of polite conduct that apply to the rest of us?

How Green Was My Garden?

In 2007, Gay Street in downtown Columbus was changed from a one-way to a two-way street. As part of the project, about $1 million was spent on environmental improvements, including landscaped median strips that were added at points along the street, as well as “rain gardens.” The rain gardens were designated areas surrounded by cement berms that were supposed to look like an actual garden, with flowers and other plantings. They were intended to serve an important purpose: to absorb and filter storm water runoff from the surrounding area before it found its way back to local rivers.

The switch to a two-way street has worked well for Gay Street. The “rain gardens,” on the other hand, were kept up for a time and were a nice addition to the street; they also were featured in The Rain Gardener newsletter and won awards for the consultants who developed the project. But at some point along the way, whoever was responsible for taking care of the rain gardens stopped doing so. The photo above shows one of the rain gardens as it looked yesterday when I walked by on my way to the library. It’s an unsightly, muddy area, but more importantly it probably doesn’t do much to serve its stated purpose of absorbing and filtering storm water runoff–at least, no more than would be accomplished by untended open ground.

Only the sign below remains to remind passersby of what this area was supposed to be. Interestingly, Columbus’ submission to The Rain Gardener newsletter, linked above, stated that one of the goals of the rain garden project was to educate downtown workers, residents, and others “about the issues that storm water runoff creates.” Now the rain gardens serve a different educational purpose: they show what happens after the awards and the fanfare, when a well-intended “green” project is ignored and you wonder why the money to create it was spent in the first place.

Green Spaces (VI)

When the Scioto Mile project was first announced years ago, there was a lot of skepticism about whether focusing on Columbus’ sluggish river area could ever produce benefits. I was admittedly one of the skeptics. Now that the project has been completed and had a few years to develop, I’ve become a believer. I think the Scioto Mile has become a really great addition to the roster of Columbus green spaces.

The Scioto Mile is physically different from the traditional downtown Columbus green spaces, like the Statehouse grounds and Goodale Park, because it is a long, sprawling stretch of green that runs along the river rather than being a defined rectangle, which is the configuration of most traditional parks. The length of the park, which runs for more than a mile, gives it a decidedly different vibe than other parks. The uninterrupted walkways that duck under the bridges spanning the river make it a favorite for cyclists, joggers, and walkers, for example. And the extended nature of the park means there is plenty of room for interesting and distinctive spaces. One of my favorites is an area directly behind the federal courthouse that is filled with statues of whimsical creatures positioned along a rolling lawn. Who wouldn’t want to sit down next to a griffin or a unicorn and watch the river roll by?

I’ve got to give credit to the city planners who came up with the Scioto Mile project and then executed on it: it’s definitely had a positive impact on the downtown area and the workers and residents who frequent it.

Green Spaces (V)

Columbus is blessed with two excellent urban parks that bracket the core downtown area. The one to the north is Goodale Park, named for Dr. Lincoln Goodale, who is represented in the statuary bust shown above. Dr. Goodale was a physician, businessman, and civic-minded person who donated the park property to the city of Columbus in 1851 on the condition that it be “forever kept and preserved as a public park.” Fortunately, the city accepted and has kept its word.

Goodale Park is a good example of how a park can become deeply integrated into the surrounding community. It’s the long-time site of Comfest, a convenient watching spot for the Doodah Parade, and an essential feature of the nearby Short North area. It’s also huge, sprawling, and provides plenty of that treasured green space where a person can wander or simply sink down upon the wide green lawns. And it has the best fountain of any Columbus urban park, with its tower of twin elephants spouting water from their trunks into a lake filled with fish and turtles. How can you top that?

Dr. Goodale was a far-sighted person, and generations of Columbus residents owe him a debt of gratitude for giving us a great urban park.

Green Spaces (IV)

I like the tucked away, somewhat hidden green spaces that you find in downtown Columbus and other urban settings. They show that someone went to the effort and expense of creating a pretty area when they could have simply eschewed grass and trees and turned the area into a soulless, uninviting, and low-maintenance concrete patio instead.

One of these little gems is found just off High Street, on the block north of Nationwide Boulevard. As you head north on the west side of High Street and approach the bridge over some railroad tracks, a sidewalk suddenly appears to the left. If you follow it, the winding path allows you to cut over to Front Street, but also takes you past this sliver of green with grass, trees, and landscaping and a cool view of the Hyatt Regency hotel building. Whoever designed the area did a commendable job, because the row of trees between the area and High Street act as an effective screen against traffic noise, creating a quiet, calm oasis in the middle of a busy city.

This attractive green spot is right next to an office building. I’m sure there are workers who enjoy looking at the windows at it, and also appreciate it as a lunch spot where they can sit under the trees and enjoy some carry-out from the nearby North Market on a sunny day. Whoever created this little area has enriched their work days.

The Kayak Tell

In poker, a “tell” occurs when players exhibit some visible sign that betrays their view of their position. They might touch an ear, or blink, or shift their position in response to a very good hand, or a very bad predicament. The experienced poker player watches for such tells, and profits from them.

“Tells” extend beyond the poker table. Rivers have tells, too. And when I took my walk along the Scioto River today, I saw one of them. In two different places along the river, in the heart of downtown and near the Audubon Park dam, I saw groups of kayaks on the water, as well as a pop-up kayak company along the riverbank near the Main Street bridge.

Kayaks are a significant “tell” for the Scioto River, because they indicate that what the Scioto River project hoped to achieve is, in fact, moving closer to reality. When the project began years ago, the designers hoped that by narrowing the river and removing some of the dams, the river might be transformed from a shallow, muddy, debris-choked mess into a real river, with an actual, discernible current. Kayaks are a pretty good tell that the goal is being achieved, because they move with the current. Even more important, no one would have wanted to be at seated kayak distance from the sluggish, smelly Scioto of days gone by.

The Scioto has a long way to go before it could be viewed as a natural river, but every journey begins with a single step. Kayaks on the water are a good sign.