The Keep

23_the_keep_restaurant_bar_columbus__hotel_le_veque-1500x1001Last night Kish and I and Mr. and Mrs. JV had dinner at The Keep, one of Columbus’ newest restaurant options.  It’s located on the mezzanine level of the Hotel LeVeque, smack dab in the middle of downtown Columbus.

Given the name, I thought The Keep might have a medieval castle theme, with a wait staff carrying crossbows or broadswords.  There was no jousting or armor plating visible during our visit, however.  We first had a drink — well, actually two, since none of us were going to be driving home — at The Keep’s bar, which was packed with people and hosting at least two separate holiday parties.  We knew we were in a cutting-edge spot when we learned that the people next to us were both out-of-towners who had arranged their first meeting via Tinder.  The bar offers lots of different cocktail, wine, and beer options, as well as a limited bar food menu.  We skipped the food, since we were going to be eating at the restaurant next door, and enjoyed our drinks and the lively, bustling urban vibe of the place.

The restaurant is a few steps away from the bar.  It is modeled as a modern French brasserie, and — to this uneducated wine fancier, at least — it has a very solid selection of French wines, as well as domestic labels.  Given the brasserie setting, I felt compelled to start my meal with the French onion soup, which was good and served piping hot, without the overload of bread and cheese that you frequently get with that order.  You could actually eat the soup without having to use your spoon to saw through an inch-thick layer of bread and cheese and having the soup splash out of the bowl as a result.   My entree was the Guajillo pork cheeks, served with black-eyed peas, collard greens, and corn nuts.  It was very tasty, too.  As JV observed, the portions are kept to moderate size, so you can be a member of the Clean Plate Club without having to waddle out of the joint, groaning with a mixture of satiation and discomfort.  The reasonable portion size also left room for Kish and me to split a really good dessert consisting of a kind of miniature spicy Bundt cake with ice cream.

The ambiance of The Keep restaurant is appealing and has definite brasserie elements, with a central dining counter area and tables and booths spread around.  One other thing:  as we looked around, we realized that we were by far the oldest folks in the room.  That was true in the bar area, too.  How often are fun-loving 60-year-olds the senior citizens in a downtown restaurant?  Maybe the younger crowd is attracted by the brasserie setting, or the central downtown location, or the prices, which I thought were very reasonable.  In any event, it was nice to know that we oldsters had stumbled upon a hip place where the cool kiddie set hangs out.  We’d go back, if they let us in.

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The Ghosts Of Johnny Marzetti

It’s amazing what you can learn just by looking at signs in downtown Columbus.  Yesterday, as I was walking past a building that is being rehabbed and rebranded near the intersection of Broad and High Streets, I learned that its first floor space once housed Marzetti’s Restaurant — and its signature creation, Johnny Marzetti.

Really?  Who knew that, for more than 30 years now, I’ve worked less than a block away from the birthplace of one of the most hated school cafeteria offerings of my childhood?

johnny-marzetti-2It’s hard to imagine that Johnny Marzetti was actually created by any human being, much less somebody in middle-of-the-road Columbus, Ohio.  I never ate the Johnny Marzetti created by the former Marzetti’s Restaurant, but the dish served under that name by the hair-netted cafeteria staff of the Akron-area schools seemed like it must have been concocted by the devil — or perhaps was the residue of nuclear detonation tests on the island of Bimini.

Inevitably tepid, baked to a concrete brick-like consistency with a sharp-edged crust, flavored with tooth-curling, industrial strength tomato sauce purchased in garbage can-sized drums, shot through with suspiciously chewy ersatz meat by-products, and plopped on to your tray with a resounding thwack, Johnny Marzetti was always greeted with a groan by the kids at Rankin Elementary and Eastview Junior High.  And when, as was inevitably the case, the rigid pile of Johnny Marzetti went largely unconsumed and was returned at the tray drop-off at the end of lunch period, it was carefully scraped into a container — presumably to be recycled for another lunch next week, or perhaps used as mortar on the foundation of the school addition being constructed next door.

Johnny Marzetti — along with the other dish that my sister Cath and I loathed and called “hairy fatty chicken” — was largely responsible for converting me into a dedicated bring your own sack lunch student.  Why expose yourself to the possibility of picking at that inert pink mound of glop when you could have a PB and J made by Mom, with an apple and a Twinkie, too?  In its own demonic way, the Johnny Marzetti served by school cafeterias made us all appreciate the loving cooking efforts of our mothers.

That location being rehabbed at 16 East Broad Street now carries a lot of baggage for me.  I wonder if a restaurant will ultimately start up in that space — and if so, I wonder if I’ll have the guts to overcome the ghosts of Johnny Marzetti and try it.

The Random Restaurant Tour (IX)

Yesterday Kish and I met for lunch. We try to get together for lunch about once a week, where we can eat in peace and talk without an aging dog hoarsely barking at us to give her people food. We try to pick a spot somewhere between home and the office, and we’re always game for something new.

Yesterday we checked out the Blind Lady Tavern on Mound Street. It was a bitterly cold day, with a sharp wind that chilled to the bone. It felt good to finally reach the Blind Lady, which has a warm, welcoming ambiance complete with a cool pressed tin ceiling and a single room shared by the bar and lots of wooden tables.

After my walk through the arctic wind tunnel, I decided to warm up with the fried chicken sandwich and chips. The sandwich was excellent, with fried chicken that was crunchy but moist, with a nice sauce and tasty coating that wasn’t overly breaded. I also want to commend the chips, which looked to be homemade and were crisp and blessedly not over-salted. I left nothing behind. And because I knew I would be venturing back out into the brutal chill, I decided to end the meal with a cup of very good coffee that was served piping hot in a huge cup that was just begging for a shot of cream. All in all, it was a completely satisfying meal. Kish got the blackened fish sandwich with an enormous pile of greens and also said her food was very good.

According to our pleasant waitress, the Blind Lady — the name of which refers to the blindfolded depiction of Justice, in deference to the nearby Franklin County courthouses — has been around for two years, in a building that has housed the Jury Room lounge and other courthouse-related spots. We can attest that it is now a first-rate place to have a beagle-free lunch.

The Random Restaurant Tour (VIII)

Gay Street is home to more restaurants per square foot than any other street in downtown Columbus.  Yesterday JV, the Unkempt Guy, the Bus-Riding Conservative and I paid a visit to the newest member of the Gay Street Foodiehood, an Irish/American joint called Pub Mahone that opened only a few months ago. It wasn’t a hard choice on a day where rain was in the offing, because Pub Mahone is only a few steps down the street from our office and we were feeling in a neighborly spirit, besides.

Why do you go to an Irish pub?  (Well, to have an adult beverage or two, of course, but I wasn’t thinking about that because we were there for lunch.)  In part, it’s the atmosphere.  You’re looking for a place that is warm and snug, with dark wood walls, wooden tables, a wooden bar, and as many other wood elements you can reasonably cram into a restaurant space.  Pub Mahone delivers on the ambiance front.  It’s got wood everywhere you look, with the customary pictures and other Irish features, including a mock-up of what appears to be a thatched roof house.  It looks like it would be a great place to gather after work with friends.

The food is pretty good, too.  I went for the American side of the menu and had a double Sibin burger with fries; the rest of the lunch group decided to go Irish.  The UG and the BRC had the Boxty Mahone, which our fun and feisty waitress aptly described as a “big pile of food” with cabbage and corned beef on potato cakes, drizzled with Mahone sauce. I noticed that neither the UG or the BRC left anything on their plates.  JV went for the Reuben Mahone, which was enormous and also featured some very tasty-looking corned beef.  In fact, the corned beef looked so good it made me briefly second-guess my burger choice, but after a few bites of the double Sibin I realized I also had made a wise decision.

With Pub Mahone, we’re really starting to cover the food option bases on Gay Street.  What’s next?  The lunch crew is ready for just about anything.

The Random Restaurant Tour (VII)

Yesterday the Wrestling Fan and I decided to stroll a few blocks down Gay Street to the newest restaurant in the ‘hood.  It’s called Pat and Gracie’s and it’s located in the spot formerly occupied by Lomonico’s, at the intersection of Gay and Grant.

I liked Lomonico’s, but Pat and Gracie’s brings a totally different vibe to the spot.  It’s got a wrap-around bar and many more tables than Lomonico’s did.  I’ve been to the place twice, and each time it’s been far more crowded that Lomonico’s ever was.  Crowds can have their downside — like having to wait for a table, which isn’t ideal when you’re just out for lunch — but they also bring a definite sense of bustling energy.  Pat and Gracie’s has that feel.  Yesterday we didn’t have trouble getting a table, because the Wrestling Fan wanted to go early to “beat the rush.”  (Given his advancing age, he’s obviously wise, but I’m guessing he’s also an “early bird special” guy come dinner time, too.)

I got the spicy chicken sandwich, pictured above, and the Wrestling Fan got a salad with chicken that was served in an enormous metal mixing bowl.  I can’t speak for the salad, which the WF polished off with relish — in fact, I tried not to even look at it given the presence of so many vegetables in one place — but the spicy chicken sandwich definitely hit the spot.  The chicken is marinated in buttermilk and fried, topped with ground jalapeno sauce and cheddar cheese (I had them hold the tomato that typically is part of the ensemble), and served on a toasted bun.  The sandwich is moist and crunchy at the same time and has a great kick to it.  My only suggestion to the proprietors would be to cut back somewhat on the fries served with the sandwich, or they’re going to have to start widening the chairs for the regulars.

 

Infrastructure Insecurity

Every morning on my way to work I cross over the combined roar of the I-70/I-71 traffic on the Third Street bridge.  I use the same bridge to get home at night.  The bridge is a key part of my commute because it is one of the few avenues for pedestrian traffic from German Village and the south side into downtown Columbus.

img_5527.jpgOn Monday, I noticed that part of the bridge was blocked off by yellow construction tape and some skinny orange cones.  When I went over to investigate this development, I saw that chunks of the bridge appeared to have fallen off.  A glance suggested that, with one ill-timed stumble, a luckless walker could go pitching through the gap and tumbling down the hillside to the traffic stream below.

Yikes!

Since that close examination, I’ve given the orange cone area the widest berth the sidewalk will allow.  And, because you can’t help but think on a walk, I find myself wondering about what the problem with one part of the bridge means for the structural integrity of the bridge as a whole.  What if the bridge started to crumble just as I am walking across?

Double Yikes!

That thought has helped me to pick up the pace on my morning walks.  But I’ll be very relieved when this personal, visible, and unsettling reminder of our national infrastructure problem gets fixed.

The Random Restaurant Tour (VI)

Dr. Science knows all of the best food places in Columbus.  On Monday, his innate ability to identify strong options at every point on the taste bud spectrum led us to Cravings Cafe, which just recently moved downtown.

Cravings Cafe is located on Front Street between Gay and Long Streets, in a space that used to be occupied by the legendary Saigon Palace.  The physical space has been renovated inside and out, and now features an airy, exposed brick ambiance that it looks nothing like the old SP — which is a good thing in my book — and the food is nothing like that served by the former occupant of the space, either.  Cravings offers breakfast and lunch menus, with the lunch options being heavily weighted toward sandwiches.  There are daily specials, too, which suggests to me that the people running the place are both creative and serious about their craft.

In fact, Dr. Science and I both had the special on Monday, which was a grilled cheese sandwich.  This wasn’t the kind of grilled cheese that Mom used to make with Wonder bread and Kraft American cheese squares, though.  The Cravings version had at least four different kinds of cheese and a delectable bacon jam, and was served on hot, crunchy bread.  Dr. Science dipped his in hot sauce, while I speedily polished mine off au naturel.  Either way, it was excellent, and Cravings’ other, everyday menu sandwiches look pretty good, too.

Cravings Cafe is only a few blocks from my office, in an area of downtown that hasn’t really been known for food.  I’ll gladly welcome a top-notch sandwich place to the ‘hood anytime.