Dos Hermanos

IMG_2931Just because Labor Day weekend is here doesn’t mean that Food Truck Summer is over — at least, not yet.  Today Kish, Russell and I headed down to Dinin’ Hall on a beautiful blue sky day for another taste of the best Columbus’ mobile cuisine corps has to offer.  We found an impossible choice:  the Green Meanie, or Dos Hermanos?  Because I’ve already relished and celebrated the Green Meanie’s wonderful shiznite panko-crusted dog, this time we decided to head south of the border.

Let’s see, what to order?  Tacos, tamales, quesadilla, or a grande burrito?  Hmmm . . . well, we’re just going to have to declare a lunchtime exception to the no-carb/low-carb regimen and dig right in, aren’t we?  And when there is a dish with “grande” as part of the title, how can you possibly choose something else?  So three grande burritos it was, made with barbacoa and the works — although, in a sheepish nod to dietary discipline, I asked for mine without rice.

IMG_2925We promptly received three freshly made burritos that were approximately the size of a bodybuilder’s forearm.  How to eat them?  The thoughtful proprietors provided a fork that Kish — being a highly genteel person — politely used to good effect.  Russell and I, on the other hand, decided to eschew social convention and use the two-handed approach.  In my case, this was a thinly disguised excuse to lick my fingers and feel some of the juice from the combined ingredients run down my chin.  And what a combination!  The first heaping mouthful was grande, indeed, with pico delgallo, cilantro, sour cream and the other sauces mixing to pack a powerful flavor punch.  Whew!  For $8, the Dos Hermanos grande burrito has to be one of the great bargains in the Columbus food universe.

We shared Dinin’ Hall today with a large group from the United Way that was touring the Franklinton area.  One of that party asked another what Dos Hermanos met, and nodded approvingly when the response was “two brothers.”  I don’t speak Spanish, but I do know this:  those two brothers can cook.  Their truck is cool looking, too.

Mixing Bowl Asian Grill

IMG_2861At the Columbus Food Truck Festival yesterday, the four of us looked long and hard at the dozens of food truck options.  Finally, we settled on the Mixing Bowl Asian Grill.  It’s a testament to the food this place offers that a committed meat-eater (me), a vegetarian (the Rising Star), a person who boasts incessantly about her California excursions and California cuisine (the Origamist), and a person committed to eating a taco at all costs (the Investor) were able to agree on a single food truck.

The MBAG was a good choice on two levels.  First and foremost, the food was great.  Second, the MBAG had a two-person bowl-building operation underway that caused its waiting line to be the fastest moving line at the Food Truck Festival, which is incredibly important if you are really, really hungry and can’t bear to smell the mouth-watering scents for one more second. 

IMG_2863The MBAG follows a customer choice approach that appeals to me.  You figure out whether you want a rice bowl, a noodle bowl, a salad bowl, a burrito, or a taco.  Then you order your protein, hot toppings, cold toppings, sauces, and crunch from a menu that offers multiple choices.  I got a rice noodle bowl with grilled chicken (including the “extra protein” option), sauteed bean sprouts, egg, some daikon and carrot slaw, and ginger soy vinaigrette sauce.  One window starts the creation process and the other finishes it and rings you up.  Prices are reasonable (the basic chicken noodle bowl is only $8, and the extra protein is an additional $3), as shown by the fact that the MBAG would have charged only $1 for bottled water where the Columbus Commons folks were charging $3. 

The resulting noodle bowl was excellent, with just the right combination of heat, coolness, and crunch.  I used chopsticks to eat every morsel, and even when looking longingly at the empty bowl felt a certain pride at my role in its creation.  The Rising Star got some appalling tofu-oriented noodle bowl, the Origamist got a noodle bowl that included kimchi with a spicy kick that made her yearn for a beverage, and the Investor got, well, a taco.  The MBAG somehow satisfied us all, and that is what Food Truck Summer is all about.

Columbus Food Truck Festival, 2014

IMG_2878What’s Food Truck Summer without a trip to the Columbus Food Truck Festival?  That cornucopia of local food entrepreneurs and tasty grub is this today and tomorrow at the Columbus Commons.  The Origamist, the Rising Star, and the Investor and I decided to leg it over there for lunch today and check out the offerings.

It was a beautiful day, weatherwise — bright sunshine, blue sky, and temperatures topping out in the mid-70s — but it was an even more beautiful day for foodies.  I’m not sure how many dozens of food trucks were there, but it was enough to make choosing what to get almost impossible.  Ultimately we made our selection, which I’ll talk about tomorrow, but in the meantime we couldn’t help but be impressed at the number, and cuisine diversity, of Columbus food trucks peddling their wares.  BBQ, Asian, tacos, Greek, colossal sausages, noodle bowls, high-end grilled cheese, and just about every other kind of food you can think of is there, waiting to be wolfed down on the grassy plain just south of the center of downtown.  It’s a nice setting, and at today’s lunch hour it drew a big crowd.

IMG_2883It was, perhaps, unexpectedly big, because there weren’t enough tables and chairs to go around.  We ended up using an empty water stand as an ersatz table, and as we walked around we saw people perched on little chairs intended for toddlers.  We managed, but for some of the dishes being sold you really need to be able to sit down and dig in.  Next year, maybe the Festival organizers could put a row of picnic tables or two on the Commons?  It would make eating a noodle bowl with chopsticks a more feasible.

Two other items of constructive criticism.  First, all beverages have to be purchased from the city of Columbus beverage stands, and the price for a bottle of water is set at gouging levels — $3 a bottle.  $3 for bottled water?!?  That’s bogus, and self-defeating.  If you want people to enjoy the great food truck culture in Columbus, or to frequent the Commons for other events, price the water (and beer, which I think was $6 a bottle) at more reasonable levels. 

Second, crank down the volume on the music acts to a lower decibel level.  It’s nice to have music and it contributes to a fun and festive atmosphere, but I think most people are there with friends or colleagues and would like to have a conversation over lunch without having to raise their voices.

All in all, though, a very nice and well-attended event that confirmed, again, that Columbus is really starting to get there as a big city.  I’d encourage anybody interested in getting a taste (pun intended) of the Capital City food truck world to drop by tomorrow and check it out.  Just be sure to bring your own bottle of water!

Shadowbox Live

IMG_2470Part of the concept of Food Truck Summer is to make more of an effort to experience all of the diverse things that Columbus has to offer.  In furtherance of that salutary goal, last night Kish and I joined Mr. and Mrs. JV at Best of Shadowbox Live 2014.

Shadowbox is a local sketch comedy/performance troupe.  Although the group has been performing for 25 years and I’ve lived in Columbus that entire time, I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never seen them before.  Last night, therefore, I was a “virgin” — and the Shadowboxers tend to shout out the presence of virgins to the entire room of patrons.  It’s a small price to pay for getting your first taste of this talented collection of performers.

A few background points about Shadowbox.  It’s in the Brewery District of Columbus, and its got a good performance space.  Parking is cheap (only $3) and readily available.  There’s a bistro section where you can have a drink or order food before or after the performance, and you can also eat in the performance space itself. The food is a cut above what you would expect for a performance venue.  I had a grilled chicken sandwich that was both tasty and reasonably priced.

IMG_2472If you choose to eat in the performance hall, which is what we did, you’ll be waited on by the same folks who will be performing.  So, we ordered our nachos, pastas, and sandwiches from a friendly woman who, a few moments later, was convincingly portraying a teenage skank up on stage.  The performers even wait on you during intermission, and return after the show is over to cash you out.  Needless to say, they really work hard, so if you go, leave a generous tip — they clearly deserve it.

The show itself runs two hours and alternates between sketch comedy and songs performed by a full rock band.  We sat in the section nearest the performers and were so close to the stage that you could feel the bass vibrations through the floor under our feet.  The band occupies one end of the stage and the sketch comedy occurs at the other end, with lighting changes allowing sets to be changed on the darkened part of the stage.  It’s a very quick-moving show, and the amphitheater design of the performance space ensures that there isn’t a bad seat in the house.

The comedy parts of the show were quite good.  I particularly liked the Cold Feet, about a long-married couple’s odd reaction to renewing their vows, Coming Out and Going Home, about a gay guy who finds a surprising reception when he confesses his sexual orientation and another preference upon returning to his parents’ home from college, and Good Driver Discount, about designing properly PC TV commercials for an insurance company.

As good as the comedy was, I thought the music was even better.  The house band really puts out the sound, the staging and costumes are great, and the music pieces showed that the performers had talent to burn.  My favorites were the creepy I Put a Spell On You, sung by a female performer with a fabulous voice, a sultry, incense-burning rendition of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir, which is seen in the picture at the top of this post, and Prince’s Gett Off, which absolutely kicked ass and closed the show with a bang.

One other great thing about going to Shadowbox — you can buy tickets for upcoming shows for a significant discount and get some other freebies.  We bought tickets to a future show and got free tickets to two other events.  We’ll be back.

Red Plate, Blue Plate

IMG_2457Kish was on the road today, so I continued Food Truck Summer with the assistance of the Jersey Girl and the Origamist, who was making her first visit to Dinin’ Hall today.  There we found a food truck I haven’t tried before:  Red Plate, Blue Plate, which specializes in what they call Southern Coastal Cuisine.

Was it good?  Let’s just say that if this food is what they really serve on the southern coastline, I know where I’m heading on our next vacation.

JG and I got the shrimp and grits — cheesy grits topped with onions, mushrooms, celery, and nice, plump, juicy grilled shrimp.  Boy, was it succulent, and served nice and hot.  Fortunately for JG and me, we were given a plastic spoon to eat it with, because we snarfed it down so quickly if we had been given a metal knife and fork we probably would have set the place on fire from the sparks.  This dish was super-flavorful and cheesy (that is, cheesy in a good way).  I’m not sure, but I think I beat JG in our race to be the first to reach the bottom of our plates — and when it was done I was sad there was no more.

The Origamist decided on the Charleston, a sandwich made of very delicately fried shrimp, fixins, and special sauce on a roll served with barbecue chips.  It looked so good I had to restrain myself from knocking her to the ground, grabbing her plate, and sprinting into the distance to eat the sandwich.  When deciding what to order, the Origamist asked if the sauce was hot, and the proprietor responded, with a twinkle in his eye, that his food is not about heat or spice, but about taste.  Touche!  He’s right, too.

The Carne Frita From Teodora’s Kitchen

IMG_2406Yesterday Kish and I continued our Food Truck Summer with a visit to Dinin’ Hall, where we faced a very difficult choice between Herb n Food Truck and Teodora’s Kitchen.

Ultimately, the mouth-watering description of the Carne Frita from Teodora’s Kitchen tipped the balance:  Flank steak over lentils and basmati rice, served with fried plantains.  When we picked up our order the flank steak was still sizzling and piping hot, as well as tender and succulent.  With a heaping serving of rice and lentils, grilled onions and green peppers, some greens on top, five fried plantains that were only slightly smaller than the size of a manhole cover, and some chunky salsa, our containers runneth over with food.

Kish, who isn’t much of a meat eater, couldn’t finish all of her steak.  Fortunately, her dutiful husband was there, ready to ensure that she remained a member of the Clean Plate Club.  Sometimes husbands just have to take one for the team.  It was a beautiful, mild summer day, and the Dinin’ Hall venue, which opens out to the great outdoors, is a great place to sit and chat.  Thanks to the friendly proprietor, too, for wrangling two ice-cold bottles of water for us.

So far, Food Truck Summer has been a riot.