The Random Restaurant Tour (XII)

 

New buildings are going up all over downtown Columbus, and I’ve been hoping that we’ll be getting some new restaurants along with the new office and residential space. So when I saw that The Goat was open for business — even though the building it occupies is still seriously under construction — the Jersey Girl, the Origamist, and I decided to stroll down South High Street and pay it a visit.

Although the space surrounding the restaurant is a beehive of construction workers, scaffolding, and other equipment, the interior space at The Goat is finished and very pleasant, with high ceilings, an open, airy feeling, and lots of room between the tables and chairs. It’s reminiscent of a New York or LA bistro. The only downside we noted is that there were TVs everywhere, with the sound on, which was distracting while we were trying to carry on a conversation. I think there are too many TVs in America, period, but unless a restaurant intends to be a sports fan hangout — and the menu at The Goat doesn’t suggest that is the business model — it’s got to limit the idiot boxes to the immediate bar area. If I were running The Goat, I’d follow that approach and ditch a lot of the TVs. As it is, the place seems to be neither fish nor fowl.

As for the food, the menu is limited, but interesting.  I got the buffalo chicken wrap, which came with some very tasty fries.  The chicken was very tender and flavorful, and the wrap made for a substantial meal.  The only downside was that the wrap was chock full of iceberg lettuce, even though there was no mention of lettuce in the description of the dish on the menu.  This is another pet peeve of mine — a menu should disclose all ingredients in a dish, and diners should be entitled to rely on finding only what is listed when their order comes.  I hate iceberg lettuce, so I used the fork to shovel as much of it as possible out of the wrap.  Without the lettuce, the wrap was very good.  The Jersey Girl raved about her soup, and the Origamist liked her wrap, too.

I’ll go back to The Goat, which is a pretty nice setting for lunch, but I’d like it even better with fewer TVs and more information on the menu.

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Our Own Urban (Fast) Food Desert

Yesterday we were having lunch at Pat & Gracie’s, a good spot just a few blocks east of the firm on Gay Street, talking about places to eat downtown, when we realized with a start that there are no longer any of the traditional fast food restaurants in the core downtown Columbus area.

fast-food-signsOnce, this was not the case.  There are was Arby’s just a block or so away, a White Castle, a Skyline Chili, and three Wendy’s.  Now, they’re all gone.  Unless I’m forgetting one, the only traditional fast food place even remotely in the downtown footprint is a McDonald’s located at the corner of Grant & Main, just south of Grant Hospital and the Main branch of the library, on the far fringes of the core downtown area.  The closest we’ve got to traditional fast food are a few Subway shops, including one that is across the street from the firm.  If you really want traditional fast food options in Columbus, Ohio, you need to head away from downtown and head to the ‘burbs and the highways.

Why have the fast food outlets moved out of the central downtown area?  The Red Sox Fan hypothesizes that, in the modern world, fast food restaurants have to have drive-thru service to be economically feasible, and the buildings and spaces in downtown Columbus just aren’t suited for that kind of design.  There’s no doubt, too, that rents in downtown Columbus are rising — that’s purportedly the reason for the lamentable closure of the Skyline Chili once located close to Broad and High, which did a bustling lunch trade — and high rents and fast food really don’t mix.  And it could be, too, that the downtown restaurant clientele, consisting of thousands of office workers like us and people staying at the downtown hotels, just don’t want to get typical fast food for their sit-down lunch and have found really terrific alternatives to traditional fast food throughout the downtown area.  Even if I need to eat at my desk to meet a deadline, there are lots of non-fast food options nearby where I can get something tasty and interesting on a carry-out basis.

It might be a chicken and egg scenario — which came first, the departure of the fast food outlets or the opening of lots of good, unique downtown eateries like those found on Gay Street? — but these days downtown Columbus, Ohio could be called an urban fast food desert.  I kind of like it that way.

A Whiff Of Spring

After months of enduring the rude blasts of winter, the people of Columbus were ready to savor a little decent weather. So when an unseasonably warm February day saw the temperatures hit the 70s, Columbusites weren’t about to let the moment pass without enjoying the spring-like conditions to the fullest. Along Gay Street, the patrons at the bars and restaurants were happily dining and drinking al fresco, and a downtown resident had donned shorts to walk his dog.

The dog seemed to enjoy the weather, too. Let’s face it — when February rolls around, everybody’s got a little spring fever.

The Random Restaurant Tour (X)

Yesterday Dr. Science and I visited Andes Bar & Grill, one of the very newest restaurants in downtown Columbus. It’s located on Fourth Street, next to the YWCA, in a spot previously occupied by Hae-Paul’s Korean-American eatery.

Andes offers home-cooked meals of Bolivian comfort food.  At our waitress’ suggestion, Dr. Science and I both went for the chicken and rice plate, and we also split some empanadas.  The chicken was a good-sized leg and thigh that had been slow-cooked.  It was awesomely juicy and tender, making it easy to use knife and fork to extricate every last ounce of succulent meat off the bone.  The chicken was served in a kind of rich gravy, and I gladly mixed the meat and gravy with the rice, added a few dashes from a bottle of Cholula hot sauce on the table, and went at it.  The empanadas also were quite good, crisp and crunchy on the outside and moist and hot on the inside.  Dr. Science, recalling his days handling test tubes and Bunsen burners, deftly used his empanada as a kind of fence to allow his fork to retrieve every last grain of rice.

The chicken was served at a mild spice level, and after we finished our food the friendly proprietor came by to ask how we liked the food and to clear our plates.  When he saw that we had both cleaned our plates and left only a few well-picked bones behind, he beamed.  He also happens to be the cook, and we asked about the available options if you’re looking for a little additional kick with your meal.  He said that traditionally Bolivian food is served at a very mild spice level, and people can then tailor the heat of their dish to their specific taste by adding sauces that are served separately.  He said that Andes has two homemade sauces that you can use for that purpose, one that is at a moderate spice level and one that goes in, all guns blazing.

The chance to eat that home-cooked food with a fiery sauce will definitely cause me to spring on the back of my llama and head back to the Andes.

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.

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.