All Politics Is Local

The old saying is that “all politics is local.”  We’ve seen some very tangible evidence of the truth of that saying here in Stonington, Maine.

Last night there was a public hearing at the Stonington Town Hall about food trucks.  It’s a hot issue here for the small business owners.  There’s a limited “summer season” in Stonington when local businesses hope to sell their wares to tourists and visitors enjoying the sunny but not-too-hot weather, and also a limited amount of four-hour on-street parking in the “downtown” area that those tourists and visitors can use.  Business owners are concerned that food trucks can come and use those precious spots for the full four hours, potentially making parking a challenge and causing a visitor to pass their business by.  And the restaurants, all of which are locally owned businesses, aren’t happy with the idea of food trucks swooping in and taking away customers.

Stonington doesn’t have an ordinance governing food trucks.  Should there be one, and if so what should it say?  Last night the town’s Board of Selectmen heard from the public on the issues, and now they’ll decide.

And sometimes the politics is even more local — specifically, about one person with a piece of cardboard and a magic marker.  The sign below was posted on a telephone pole just at the eastern entrance to the downtown area.  Not knowing anything about the “whale rules” that the sign mentioned, I did a Google search and learned that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has promulgated a proposed rule to protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale.  NOAA believes that the whales are at risk of death or injury from entanglement in the many buoy lines that connect lobster traps on the ocean floor to their buoy markers on the surface,  The new proposed rule would require Maine lobstermen to remove half of their vertical buoy lines in the water — which means directly reducing the potential catch.  In a town like Stonington, where many people are self-employed in the lobster industry, that’s a federal rule that could potentially have an enormous and direct impact on the town.  Public hearings on the rule will begin soon, and Maine’s congressional delegation has appealed to President Trump to quash the proposed rule.  They argue that there really isn’t evidence that the lobster buoy lines are responsible for the decline in the right whale population.

That hand-lettered sign just outside of town got my attention, and made me look into an issue that i wasn’t aware of before.  It just shows the impact of a little local politicking.

Umami Bites And The Food Truck Festival

The Columbus Food Truck Festival, which started at noon today at the Columbus Commons and will continue through 6 p.m. Sunday, exists for one reason and one reason only:  to allow people like me to discover, once again, how many great food trucks are patrolling the world out there.  Today, the happy discovery was of Umami Bites.

IMG_6463The Origamist, the Brussels Sprouts Addict, and I walked down to the Commons on an absolutely perfect day.  We arrived at about 12:15, and the Festival was already packed, with long lines in front of many of the food trucks.  We strolled around, looking for something new that we hadn’t tried before, and found Umami Bites at the end of one of the food truck rows.  (To make this post as educational as possible, I should note that the Umami Bites truck explained that “umami” is one of the five basic tastes, along with sweet, sour, salty, and bitter, and means “pleasantly savory.”  The Origamist and I were drawn by the pork belly wonton tacos; the BSA, predictable and misguided soul that he is, locked on to the flash-fried Brussels Sprouts.

Umami Bites is well named, because the pork belly wonton tacos were fantastic.  In fact, they were so good that you wonder why someone didn’t invent them, say, during the Middle Ages.  It’s one of those dishes that somehow combines the best of different cultures and cuisines, with the hearty pork belly liberally doused in a sweet chili sauce, some freshly chopped pickled red onion adding some tang, and the taco shell made of the whatever the heck wontons are made of, which gave the tacos a delicious and very satisfying crunch.  Just thinking about them makes me wish I had another serving right now.  I mean, right now!

IMG_6462I have to admit that the BSA’s offering looked pretty good too, with a neat presentation that featured chopsticks and a quasi-Chinese carry-out container.  It was hard to tell, however, because the BSA consumed the dish so quickly that the chopsticks rubbing together risked becoming a fire hazard.  And it was fun sitting out on the Commons grounds with my friends, enjoying the sunshine and the passing crowds and then graciously yielding our seats to other diners in a show of basic Midwestern friendliness.

This is the fifth year of the Columbus Food Truck Festival, and it gets better every year.  Bigger, too, I think — there’s actually another part of it, across Third Street, with an entire parking lot filled with more fantastic food truck fare.  If you’re in Columbus this weekend and have a hankering for some adventurous grub, do yourself a favor and stop by.

The Columbus Top Six

The Brown Bear, a faithful reader of the Wall Street Journal, alerted some of us to a Journal article that includes Columbus in a list of “6 great small cities for food lovers” and identifies six great food options for the lucky residents of Ohio’s flagship city.  The Journal‘s six Columbus choices are The Refectory, Skillet, Basi Italia, Wolf’s Ridge Brewing, Katalina, and Ajumama.

I’ve got no quibble with the restaurants on the list, although I haven’t been to Katalina yet.  In fact, I’ve written about my excellent omelet at Skillet, the delicious toad in the hole at Wolf’s Ridge Brewing, and the mid-boggling amdong chicken at Ajumama, pictured at right.  The Refectory has long been a Columbus gastronomic landmark — its oyster soup may be the best soup this committed soupophile has ever tasted — and Basi Italia is a favorite of our friends the Bahamians where we’ve always had great meals.  I also commend the Journal for including a food truck, Ajumama, among the six choices.  I’m a huge fan of the Columbus food truck culture, whether found at Dinin’ Hall or the annual food truck festival, and I’m glad to see one of their number get a deserving nod in the pantheon of foodie destinations.

No, the problem with the list is who’s not on it.  No G. Michael’s?  No Rigsby’s?  No Indian Oven?  No shiznite from the Green Meanie?  And what about Alana’s, or the Black Creek Bistro?  They’re all deserving choices, too.

A list of six just isn’t enough to do justice to the great foodie options in Columbus.  And one other thing about the Journal article:  it says Columbus isn’t well known for its dining scene — yet.  Says who, WSJ?

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.

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!

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.

First Dinin’ Hall Of The Season

IMG_6193Today Kish and I went to Dinin’ Hall for the first time this summer.  The schedule has been limited to Thursdays and Fridays for the most part, but it’s still a great place to sample what Columbus’ finest food trucks have to offer.

Today we both went with Ayam Bakar from Aromaku.  What a great way to start the Food Truck Summer!  Grilled chicken with Indonesian spices over thin egg noodles, with hot sauce, some lime juice we squeezed on ourselves, and other goodies.  Just stunningly good, and served in the friendly confines of the Dinin’ Hall eating space in Franklinton.

Dinin’ Hall, we’ve missed you!  Aromaku, thanks for making the start of Food Truck Summer so succulent and special!

Letting Columbus Food Trucks Roam

Earlier this week Columbus City Council passed legislation that, for the first time, will allow food truck owners to sell their wares from parking spots on city streets. Previously, food trucks were restricted to selling only on private property.

IMG_3701Columbus politics are known for moderation and consensus, and the food truck legislation was no different. The vote on the law was unanimous, after City Council worked with food truck owners interested in greater access and restauranteurs concerned about safety issues raised by patrons congregating in the areas between food trucks and brick and mortar dining establishments.

Under the new legislation, food trucks will be able to park in the first or last parking spots on blocks in most commercial areas. In high-traffic areas, like the Short North, the food trucks will need to reserve one of 20 designated spots. Food trucks also will be subject to health and fire inspections and must buy a license and pay for an annual street parking permit. The legislation also established an advisory board that will periodically review the food truck rules and consider whether they need to be revised.

This is a great development for those of us who are food truck fans and love the passion, diversity, and entrepreneurial spirit — not to mention the tasty and interesting grub — that food trucks bring to Columbus. I’m hopeful that those of us who work on Gay Street, which as the coolest street in downtown Columbus is home to a number of restaurants already, will be happily surprised to see a food truck or two parked on our block as temperatures warm and we move into the food truck season.

Cracklin’ Latkes

IMG_4837Don’t get me wrong.  I love beef brisket sandwiches as much as the next unreconstructed meatatarian.  So when Kish and the happy jogger and I visited Dinin’ Hall today and I saw that Challah was there, I was a happy camper.

And, I was right.  The brisket sandwich (on challah bread, of course) was succulent, juicy, and by itself worth a short trip over the Franklinton area to my favorite stopping place for our Columbus food truck friends.

But what really rocked my socks was the latkes I ordered to accompany my brisket.  They were unbelievably light and crispy, like eating a bird’s nest that had that subtle, indefinable, yet  forever lip-smacking potato flavor.  Even after adding some of the sour cream-based dipping sauce, I felt like the latkes could go floating away into the humid Franklinton air — and what a crunch!

Woo-hoo!  Challah, I want to see you again!

Rendang Prada From Aromaku

IMG_4804Last week I took Kish to Dinin’ Hall for the first time, and already she’s hooked.  Today we again headed to the Hall, where we had the good fortune to find Aromaku — another one of many great food trucks found in our fair city.

Aromaku serves Indonesian food, and it’s fantastic!  I ordered the Rendang Prada, which apparently is a traditional Indonesian dish.  It was so good that it made me wish that I was raised in an Indonesian family.

Rendang is a beef stew — rich, dark, and full of spices and dripping chunks of beef in a succulent gravy.  It’s served with Prada, which is a chewy kind of roti bread.  You spoon the rendang onto the prada, roll it up, and eat it like an egg roll.  At least, that’s how I gobbled it down in an embarrassing display of gluttony.

IMG_4806Rendang prada is one of those dishes that Food Network shows would say reflects Indonesia’s mix of cultures and influences from neighboring lands.  If so, it’s an awfully good mix.  I loved the taste, and also loved that the dish was served piping hot — so hot, in fact, that the prada left a mark on the stryofoam container it was served in.  Having the prada also allowed me to greedily mop up every last drop of that awesome rendang gravy.

Kish got the bakmi ayam, a dish of noodles and minced chicken, and loved it.  We also tried the Indo-Dutch ball — no doubt the authentic,native Indonesian name for the dessert — that was a kind of pastry filled with cheese.  It also was terrific.

Not surprisingly, Kish wants to make our Dinin’ Hall lunches a weekly feature.  Why not?  There’s lots of food left to discover.

Hangin’ At The Columbus Food Truck Festival

IMG_1353Food truck aficionados, take note!  Today and tomorrow, from noon to 10 p.m., you can sample the wares of dozens of food trucks — and enjoy some beer and good music and browse through local craft tents, besides — down at the Columbus Commons.  It’s the weekend of the Columbus Food Truck Festival, and there’s a broad range of trucks operated by some of the passionate folks who are making Columbus’ food truck culture one of the city’s greatest features.

When I visited the Festival tonight, the crowd was just starting to roll in.  I got the sense that we disturbed a woman in a bikini who, amazingly, was sunbathing in the middle of one of the lawns.  Really?  Sunbathing in the middle of a civic event?  Weird, perhaps . . . but it just seemed to make the Festival a bit more quirky, and that’s not a bad thing.

I love the development of community events, like the Food Truck Festival, that you can now find almost every weekend in Columbus if you’re inclined to get out with your neighbors and friends.  It helps to make Columbus an even better place to live.  Stop by and nosh if you have a chance.

Hot Noodles, Hot Day

IMG_1320It was a beastly hot day today — so what better thing to do for lunch than hike more than a mile across the river in the broiling sunshine to get to Dinin’ Hall?

The Unkempt Guy, the Bus-Riding Conservative and I decided to tough it out anyway.  We were intrigued by the fact that the Dinin’ Hall calendar showed that The Urban Pig and Mashita Noodles would be there dishing out food truck and food cart goodness.  Who can resist a food truck called The Urban Pig, with a capital “The”?  Obviously, this is not just any Urban Pig — it is The Urban Pig, just as OSU is The Ohio State University.

When three sweaty walkers finally arrived, however, we learned that The Urban Pig was not present.  It had succumbed to the bane of food trucks — a mechanical breakdown.  Our consternation was only momentary, however, because that meant we all got to eat the excellent noodle bowls served up by the friendly, hard-working folks at Mashita Noodles.  I had mine with shredded pork, to give a nod to The Urban Pig, and I ate every morsel and gladly spooned up the last drop of the traditional Japanese broth.  Surprisingly, a bowl of hot noodles, pork, cuke and radish slices, and broth goes down every well indeed on a hot day.

We savored our noodle bowls, our cold water, and the shady, fan-breezy atmosphere in Dinin’ Hall, then ventured out into the harsh glare and humidity once more.  By the time we got back to the office we were wilted and dripping and had decided that Dinin’ Hall might be past the outer walking limits on days when the thermometer hits the mid-90s.  That just means that, on the next stifling summer day, we’ll have to let the BRC suggest a bus route instead.

Crispy Pig Ears

IMG_3912In the never-ending quest for new and different Columbus food experiences, the Red Sox Fan and I journeyed to Dinin’ Hall today.  There we found the Swoop food truck and . . . pig ears.

Crispy pig ears, to be precise, with smoky lemon tartar sauce.  When I asked the food truck proprietor about that option, he stated, with admirable simplicity, that that statement described the dish as concisely and clearly as possible.  Initially the RSF and I resisted the temptation to sample the sensory organ of a swine, and I got the cheeseburger and chicken sliders instead — which were fantastic.  But the lure of the porcine auditory organ was too strong to resist, and we later gave in to our animal urges.  (Those of you who always eat the ears of chocolate Easter rabbits first may understand the primal forces driving our decision.)

The crispy pig ears turned out to be crunchy and delicious, and a fun thing to nosh on during a conversation.  Swoop — which describes itself as Columbus’ Emergency Hunger Response Team — clearly has made the short list of must-try Capital City food truck options.

Shiznite, Good Night!

IMG_3704If you live in Columbus, go on the Green Meanie website, find out where it’s going to be over the next few days, and see if they are going be be serving their Shiznite sandwich.  If they are, do yourself a favor — take some time, drive to wherever they are going to be, and have the Shiznite.  It is that good.

According to the hand-lettered menu, the Shiznite is a panko-crusted dirty water hot dog on a New England roll with jalapeno cream cheese.  It is then topped with thick chopped bacon, avocado, onions, diced tomato, scallions, and cilantro, and drizzled with this butt-kicking shiznite sauce.  I tried it during the Ohioana Book Festival today — more on that tomorrow — and it was spectacular.  I don’t even like half of these ingredients, and I consumed the entire sandwich with relish, licked my fingers, and enjoyed every instant of the experience.  Seriously, the Shiznite is one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had.

Dinin’ Hall Is Very Cool

The Street Thyme truck at Dinin’ Hall

Dr. Science is legendary for picking great new places to try for lunch.  Today he didn’t disappoint.  The good Doctor, the Bus-Riding Conservative and I decided to check out Dinin’ Hall, and it was an inspired choice.

The interior dining area at Dinin’ Hall

Dinin’ Hall is a terrific idea.  It’s located in Franklinton, just over the Scioto River from downtown Columbus, at 400 West Rich Street.  From the outside, it looks like old industrial property — a brick building next to a railroad bridge, a loading dock, and a parking lot.  Then you notice that there are tables and chairs inside the loading dock room and food trucks in the parking lot.  Every day a new combination of food trucks, identified on the Dinin’ Hall website, serves the food.  You choose your food truck and place your order, take your bill inside to pay, wait until your food is delivered, and chow down.

What a great concept!  Take some unused or underused property where the rents are low and turn it into a place where you can get a variety of that fabulous food truck food — and yes, Ajumama and Green Meanie are two of the food trucks that make a regular appearance — and interact with other people from town.  No wonder the Dinin’ Hall motto is “Great Food, Great Space, Great Community.”

My excellent Street Thyme burger and tots

Today, on a beautiful early summer day, the options were Street Thyme and Freedom a la Cart.  Street Thyme offers some fabulous burgers; I had the State Street Standard double burger and some BBQ spiced tater tots and Dr. Science had the CBUS Sweet Heat double burger.  My burger — served blazing hot off the grill with onions, arugula, thyme aioli, and good old America cheese, substituting some bacon for the standard marinated tomatoes — was juicy and spectacular and the dusted tots were just the right complement with just the right kick.  The BRC went for a beef sandwich and cheesy grits from Freedom a la Cart and raved about them.  His choice also resulted in him being interviewed by a two-man film crew that was doing a story on Freedom a la Cart.

That’s the Columbus Food Truck World for you — you never know what you’re going to get, but you can be pretty sure it’s going to be good.