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.

The Random Restaurant Tour — XXIX

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While Kish and I were up in Maine, I got some unfortunate news from Columbus:  the Scotsman shared a Columbus Underground article announcing that Jack’s Diner would be serving its last meal on Thursday or Friday.  That meant I’ve missed the chance to grab the double cheeseburger special — with crinkle-cut fries and a chocolate milkshake, made with real milk and real ice cream, pictured above — for one last time.

Jack’s, located in Lynn Alley only a block from the Ohio Statehouse, has been a downtown dining staple since 1942.  It’s been a fixture in the lunch rotation for me and many other Vorys lawyers ever since I started at the firm in the ’80s.  You always saw the same regulars perched on the counter stools and in the booths at Jack’s, and everyone seemed to have their own favorite order from the unchanging menu and daily specials that offered classic American diner fare.  Some of the wait staff had worked there for years, and they would remember your face and your order.  It was a special place that always made you feel like home.

According to the Columbus Underground article, the demise of Jack’s was caused by the ever-ongoing construction around the Rhodes Tower, with its dark, looming scaffolding that has interrupted vehicle and pedestrian traffic.  If that is the real cause, it’s a ridiculously high price to pay for an ugly, featureless modern office tower.  Joints like Jack’s don’t come around every day.

Evening Entrepreneurs

If you’re worried about whether there is any entrepreneurial spirit left in America, relax!  Last night we paid a visit to the Moonlight Market on Gay Street in downtown Columbus, and we can faithfully report that the entrepreneurial spirit in Cbus is alive and most definitely kicking.

The Moonlight Market is held once a month on the two blocks of Gay Street between High Street and Fourth.  Vendors set up tents on each side of the street — including on the sidewalk directly in front of the firm — and sell all manner of products, from artwork to baked goods and other foods to used books to plants to clothing to massages.  Unlike some street markets, all of the participants in the Moonlight Market seem to be individuals who are pursuing their passions through their small businesses and trying to make a few bucks in the process.  Without exception, the vendors are friendly, outgoing, and excited about what they are selling, and their enthusiasm is infectious.  You can’t help but pull for these people, and also support them with your wallets.  We bought some colorful artwork and some tasty baked goods from some very appreciative sellers.

Capitalism has its good points and its bad points, and some of the good points were on display last night on Gay Street.  Dozens of people were out in their tents on a very warm Saturday evening hoping to sell their handmade or hand-raised goods — even crocheted scarves and clothing that wasn’t exactly suited to the weather.  They all have stories to tell, like the young woman nicknamed Suga Pie who has a talent for cupcakes and has been working on selling them for eight years.  She’s recently created her own website and is working on her brand.  Her pineapple upside-down cupcakes are delicious, by the way.

Go get ’em, Suga Pie, and the rest of the Moonlight Market crew!  You are what makes our economy tick.  And if you want to see a little small business entrepreneurialism in the flesh, you can catch the next Moonlight Market on August 10.

The Random Restaurant Tour — XXVIII

How many good barbecue joints should a downtown area have?  The correct answer is:  you can’t have too many.  I’m pleased to note that Columbus has added another BBQ option with Buckeye Chili & Smokehouse, which joins Pecan Penny’s and Smoked on High in the downtown/near downtown area.

Yesterday the Unkempt Guy, the Bus-Riding Conservative, and New Granddad and I legged it over to BC&S to check it out.  It’s located a few blocks east of the Ohio Statehouse and is an easy walk from Gay Street, even on a hot summer’s day.  In fact, some might argue that walking to a barbecue place is a good idea under any conditions, to help the hungry patron build up even more of an appetite.

Buckeye Chili & Smokehouse has a compelling menu and poses a tough initial choice for the arriving diner:  chili, or barbecue?  Once I decided barbecue was the way to go, I zeroed in on the mac and cheese with brisket option.  The UG and I both got it, and it was an inspired choice on our part.  The brisket was tender and juicy, the mac ‘n cheese was creamy and had just the right cheddary bite to it, and we added a little smoky barbecue sauce to complete the flavor sensation.  The result was absolutely delicious, and the UG and I also remarked that the portion size was just perfect — substantial enough to be filling, but not the kind of overwhelming amount of food that you find at some places.  We both could be members of the Clean Plate Club without feeling like we’d made pigs of ourselves — although of course pigs would fit right in at a barbecue place.

The New Grandad went for a pulled pork sandwich with onion rings, which he polished off with alacrity, and the BRC tried a pork slider special with mac ‘n cheese as the side and gobbled down his food as well.  The service was splendid, the manager checked in on us to make sure we were enjoying our meal, and as we left he came out after us and gave us all a 10 percent-off card we can use on our next visit.  And there will be a next visit, for sure.  We need to make sure that the Buckeye Chili & Smokehouse is properly welcomed to downtown Columbus, and there is chili that remains to be tried.

Hand-Rolled

I like to support locally owned and established businesses whenever possible.  I also like to savor a good cigar now and then.  So when I was walking down Gay Street toward High Street the other night and passed the Don Rey Cigar Shop at 11 East Gay, I had to turn in and check it out.

As its name suggests, Don Rey offers premium cigars and tobacco products.  It is a relatively recent addition to the Coolest Street in Downtown Columbus, and I’d not visited before.  The shop has a nice, open space with a seating area and an extensive selection of cigars lining the walls.  I met the proprietor, a very friendly and extremely enthusiastic cigar aficionado who made some knowledgeable suggestions for me.  He also disclosed that he hand rolls his own cigars, from a blend of Puerto Rican and Dominican tobacco, right there in the shop and gave me one for free — which seemed pretty darned generous.

I’ve never smoked a cigar that was hand-rolled by a person I’ve actually met before, so I was intrigued to give the cigar a try.  I enjoyed it last night with a glass of wine, and it was excellent.  In fact, I’d say it is one of the best cigars I’ve ever puffed.

If you’re on the Coolest Street in Downtown Columbus and feel like enjoying a cigar, stop by Don Rey and try one of the hand-rolled offerings.  You won’t be disappointed.