The Random Restaurant Tour (XXXIII)

Yesterday Kish and I legged it over to the Franklinton part of town to catch a matinee performance of a play by Red Herring Productions.  We decided to do a little exploring of the area and to grab lunch, too.  We ended up at BrewDog — which was jammed for a Sunday afternoon and even had some overflow people braving the cold but sunny weather and sitting outside by a fire pit.

BrewDog would fall squarely into the gastrobrewery tranche on the restaurant spectrum.  With gastrobreweries, you never know if the focus is really on the brew, and the gastro is more of an afterthought.  I’m happy to report that while BrewDog is clearly serious about its beer — it offers 48 options on tap for its thirsty patrons — it doesn’t give short shrift to the food part of the menu.

I was interested in something lighter than a burger, and the BrewDog menu offers an array of solid non-burger choices.  It’s been a while since I’ve had a hot dog and, well, BrewDog does have “dog” in its name, so I tried the bacon chipotle dog.  It was excellent.  The dog was juicy and beefy, with just the right snap when you bite into the casing, and the toppings added lots of great flavor and texture.  After carefuI analysis, I decided the best and least messy way to attack the dog was from the top. I needed two bites to get fully through each segment of the dog and the toppings, with the first bite taking care of the toppings and part of the dog and the second bite polishing off the rest of the dog and the bottom of the bun.  The fries were great, too — nice and crunchy.

It was a very satisfying meal, indeed, and the transitioning Franklinton area, where new ventures are next door to old-time welding shops, is an interesting setting.  BrewDog is well worth a visit.


IMG_5394The Ex-Neighbor works in the west Franklinton area; I work downtown.  So when we were looking for a spot for lunch on Monday, we split the difference and picked Strongwater Food and Spirits.  Located at 401 W. Town Street, just across the river from downtown, it’s about halfway between us.

Strongwater looks like it would be a good place for an adult beverage after work.  It’s got an interesting interior space, with a large bar area and side rooms that in an Irish pub would be called snugs.  You can imagine a lot of energy in the room on a crowded night.

IMG_5398As a lunch spot, Strongwater is a pretty strong choice, too.  I had the excellent and huge Kick’n Chicken sandwich, which featured some very juicy, crunchy, tasty fried chicken with pepperjack cheese, spicy aioli, and pineapple salsa.  All of the Strongwater sandwiches are served with a side of truffalo sauce that can be applied to either the sandwich or the sides (kettle chips or fries).  I liberally applied it to both, and the result was some Kick’n Chicken that had a very pleasant mouth-warming zing.

The E-N went all in for the vegan reuben and said the seitan in the sandwich — chunky wheat gluten — that is made in-house had the same kind of bulk and consistency as meat.  Of course, that’s the highest compliment that can possibly be paid to a vegan dish.  I never thought I would say this about a non-meat offering, but his grilled sandwich did look pretty darned good, and the E-N wolfed down every bit of it.

Strongwater is one of the pioneering businesses that is helping to lead the renaissance of the east Franklinton area.  It’s on the same block of brick industrial buildings as Dinin’ Hall and its neighboring art studios, just past the railroad overpass.  On our visit the Ex-Neighbor and I also noticed The Land-Grant Brewing Co., a brewery and tap room, just across Town Street from Strongwater, and the Rehab Tavern down the block.  East Franklinton looks to be heading in the right direction.

Rerouting The River

IMG_5408One of the main geographic elements of downtown Columbus is changing — and we are starting to see clear visible evidence of the new look.

For years the Scioto River crawled past the downtown area, a muddy brown swath that separated downtown from Franklinton and points west.  The river was so shallow that a replica of the Santa Maria moored next to the federal courthouse could never sail, and branches and other debris routinely became stuck in the river bed, giving the river a sad, derelict look.  It was . . . vaguely embarrassing.  Other cities have lakes and mountains and mighty rivers with boat and barge traffic, and Columbus had a glorified culvert.

IMG_5385Now all of that is changing.  The Scioto Greenways project aims to rechannel the river and create new parkland downtown as part of the project.  A dam at Main Street that had long blocked the real current of the river has been removed, allowing the Scioto to return to its narrower, deeper, and swifter natural state.  As a result, land that was covered by sluggish water has been exposed and is being converted to parkland.

Yesterday I hiked over to Franklinton for lunch and crossed the river at Broad Street on the way there and Main Street on the way back to check out the work that is being done.  The new channel has opened up wide bands of space on each side of the river bed that will be turned into green parkland.  On the downtown side, a promontory point is under construction; on the Franklinton side, legions of trees stand ready to be replanted.  What’s more, the river itself actually has a noticeable current, and the new river channel has a more pronounced, and attractive, bend as it passes the downtown area.

It’s a positive development for a city that is focusing on encouraging more people to move downtown to live, and more parkland next to downtown and a reenergized riverfront area is bound to help.  Of course, there’s also a question to be asked:  why was the Main Street dam built in the first place, and how much money was wasted in building the dam and then fixing the problems it caused because someone made that bad decision?

Cool School

IMG_4992Yesterday I was trying out a few different Columbus library branches and thought I would check out the Franklinton Branch on West Town Street.  On my way there I passed the Avondale School.  Wow, what a building!  And it is still a functioning elementary school.

The Franklinton area where the Avondale School is located is an interesting one, stretching from the other side of the river across from downtown, where Dinin’ Hall is found, to well past Mr. Carmel Hospital.  For years it was a depressed area, and now it’s a transitional area that people are trying to renovate and reenergize.  Franklinton has some interesting areas, some beautiful homes and buildings — like the Avondale School — and some committed neighborhood development organizations.  I root hard for Franklinton.

Cool Stuff Coming Up

Those of you who live in the Columbus area might want to mark your calendars for two cool events that are coming up in two weeks:  Independents’ Day 2014, and Open Streets Columbus.

Those of us lucky enough to work on Gay Street know Independents’ Day well.  For years, it’s been held on Gay Street, right in front of my office.  It’s a great event that gives the “independents” in Columbus — be they musicians, artists, businesses, food trucks, or just about anyone else who wants to claim the title — a chance to show what they’ve got to offer the community.

IMG_2936This year Independents’ Day is moving to Franklinton, the part of Columbus just across the Scioto River from downtown Columbus.  Franklinton is where Dinin’ Hall is found — so it’s a great place by simple association — but it’s also an area on the uptick, where people are willing to try new things.  Although we’ll miss Independents’ Day on Gay Street, I think it’s great that Franklinton is the new location, so people can get a look at this up-and-coming area and what it has to offer.  This year’s festivities will be held from September 19 through September 21.

And here’s a terrific new twist on Independents’ Day:  on September 21, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., Rich Street — between High Street in downtown Columbus and Starling Street in Franklinton — will be closed to vehicular traffic so that cyclists, walkers, joggers, skateboarders, and the casual strollers among us can walk down the street and across the new bridge.  They’re calling it Open Streets Columbus, and a chance to explore “a car-free urban playground.”  If you’ve never walked down the middle of a broad street and over a bridge without the thrum of traffic and the smell of exhaust affecting the experience, I can assure you it’s fun.

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.

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!

Planning For Parkland

The Columbus Downtown Development Corp. is hoping to create more parkland in the downtown area.  If it happens, it will be a good thing.

The plan is to put the parkland in the area around COSI and where the Veterans Memorial Auditorium now stands.  Vets is supposed to be torn down and replaced by an amphitheater and a different kind of veterans center.  At the same time, the damming on the Scioto River as it sluggishly moves through downtown is to be changed to allow the river to return to its more natural, narrower, more swiftly flowing state.  The narrowing will create an opportunity for additional parkland.  And, a third part of the plan — a 50,000-foot “indoor adventure” structure operated by the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium — will be built just south of COSI.

It’s an ambitious plan, and, in Columbus, ambitious plans often are greeted with skepticism.  The urban landscape is dotted with plan and concepts that have never become reality, and Columbus is no exception.  When a planner says their vision is of Columbus’ version of Central Park — which is a bit of an overstatement in any event — the question of whether the project will get off the ground becomes even more compelling.

Still, the idea of more parkland is a good one.  The future of downtown Columbus is as a residential area, not an industrial center. People like parks and playgrounds in their neighborhoods, and urban dwellers also like things to do within walking distance.  That means parks, theaters, restaurants, bars, and other potential entertainment venues.  A plan that provides parks, an amphitheater, and a downtown aquarium fits those needs.  Putting those sites on the west side of the river in the Franklinton area also makes sense.  In Columbus, as in other cities, the river is a real dividing line, and most downtown workers don’t venture over the bridges.  That needs to stop, and putting some real attractions in Franklinton will help.

Columbus is changing, and most of the changes are for the better.  Adding green space that makes downtown living more attractive will accelerate the positive trend.

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.