Wine Whine

We have an excellent wine shop only a few blocks from our house. Called Hausfrau Haven, it has an extensive selection of wines of all varieties, from all locations, as well as helpful signs to convey Wine Spectator ratings and thoughts from the proprietor about particular bottles. People who really know wines would love this place.

As for me . . . well, the selection is a bit overwhelming. I really like wines — specifically big bold reds. I like all of them. But how do you expand your horizons and educate your palate? Just try different offerings? Start with a particular region and get to know it well before moving on? Decide you’re going to focus on cabs?

I’m flummoxed.

An Abominable Snow Man

I don’t particularly want to be reminded of the abominable pandemic during a walk around the neighborhood, but I had to applaud the Calvinesque creativity of whoever came up with this googly eyed, mask-wearing, mop-wielding, disinfectant-brandishing snowman. I got a laugh out of it, and the German helmet is a distinctive touch for a German Village snow creation.

Scratch One Starbucks

This Starbucks at the corner of Sycamore and Third Street in German Village has closed. It’s fair to say that opinions are divided about that .

The coffee-obsessed Starbucks addicts are sad, of course. They’ll have to go a bit farther for their triple-spice grande cinnamon lattes and scones — but not too much farther, because Starbucks are ubiquitous in Columbus, and there are two other Starbucks that are only short walks and even shorter drives away. On the other hand, people who live in the immediate surroundings, like us, won’t be sorry to this particular Starbucks go. We might lose the so-called “Starbucks effect” — which associates Starbucks locations with higher home prices — but we’ll also lose litter, constant illegal parking by the coffee-crazed customers of the store, and lots of coffee-fueled traffic rattling through our neighborhood. And we’ve still got a nice homegrown coffee emporium, Stauf’s, that’s less than a block away.

The story around the neighborhood is that this Starbucks store, which seemed to be doing a brisk trade, was closed because Starbucks is transitioning to more of a drive-thru business model, and there is no room (fortunately) for a drive-thru set-up at this location. The drive-thru concept seems weird to me, and contrary to the whole coffee house concept in the first place — which, initially at least, sought to offer comfortable chairs and tables and friendly atmospheres that allowed customers to sit and chat and work on their laptops while sipping their cups of Joe. Now it’s grab and go and slug down your sugary concoction in the car.

This location won’t be vacant for long; a local shop that sells handmade soaps and lotions is moving from another location in our neighborhood into the former Starbucks space. And with the closure of the Starbucks those of us who walk the neighborhood won’t have to dodge the Starbucks zealots zooming around corners, mindlessly parking in no-parking spots rather than legal spots, and then backing up through pedestrian crosswalks without so much as a backward glance because they are just too important and rushed to proceed legally. I’m not sad about that.

The View From Above

I’ve written frequently about how much I enjoy Schiller Park, the great neighborhood park in German Village that has been around since the 1860s and reminds me of the kinds of older, established parks you see in places like New York and Philadelphia.

I’ve walked around and through Schiller so many times I didn’t think anything about the park could surprise me, but then I saw this great overhead image of the park posted on Facebook by VividColumbus. To orient those who use the park, that white square in the circle at the bottom center of the photo is the statue of Herr Schiller.

The photo really gives you a sense of the geometric elements of the design of the park and a different perspective on how the different parts of the park, and its many pathways, fit together. I particularly like the overhead view of formal gardens, walkways, and lines of trees that lead up to the Schiller statue. It makes me think that the designers of the gardens keep an overhead view in mind when they arrange their plantings.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again — I wish more city planners and urban renewal designs included parks as essential elements of their projects. Parks like Schiller Park make a huge contribution to their surrounding communities.

The Gingerbread House

There are lots of nice holiday light displays in German Village this year, but my favorite is the one at the little house within the footprint of Schiller Park. With its roofline limned in lights and the crossed, bright red candy canes in the windows, the house looks just like a gingerbread house when I walk by in the morning and the dark brick structure is framed by the brightening sky to the east. It’s a good example of how light displays don’t need to be elaborate to be effective in creating a festive holiday mood.

Facedown Santa

People are still putting up their Christmas decorations in German Village. Yesterday, while taking Betty for a walk after the Browns’ fine win over Tennessee, we ran across this not yet inflated Santa, and I got a chuckle out of it.

Was Santa was falling down drunk at 4:30 p.m., or just deflated? Either way, it seemed like a fitting scene for 2020.

Tree Time

With Thanksgiving behind us, it’s time to start focusing on the next big holiday on the calendar. And St. Mary Church here in German Village stands ready to satisfy your evergreen needs with a traditional Christmas tree lot. This year the lot has been spread out so the trees can comply with social distancing requirements, and there’s an ample supply of additional trees stacked up and at the ready, too.

We haven’t had a Christmas tree in years, but I do love that fresh, clean pine tree smell. it’s a pleasure walking past the lot in the morning.

The Geese Patrol

The Schiller Park pond, like every small body of water in the central Ohio area, has a goose problem. Canadian geese, to be specific: loud, squawking, honking, aggressive, madly crapping creatures that carpet every surface around the pond, including the sidewalk, with rancid goose droppings. You will never hear anyone who lives around any kind of Ohio pond say a good word about the freaking Canadian geese, because inside their noble blck-and-white exterior is utter abomination.

This morning as Betty and I took our walk around the park we noticed this car parked on the street near the pond, and saw a person in a yellow day-glo vest and a border collie patrolling the perimeter of the pond, barking at the geese and scaring the crap out of them (at least, whatever crap remains in view of their standard crapping tendencies). Apparently someone decided it is time to do something about the goose problem at the park and called in Ohio Geese Control, which promises to be “safe, humane, and effective” in resolving geese issues. According to the company’s website, it will “identify[] the site characteristics most attractive to the geese (e.g., security, food, nesting sites, water)” and then “design a custom management program based on the potential for reducing these characteristics.” I’m guessing that the border collie addresses the “security” element of goose pond selection decision-making.

This is a bit of a NIMBY issue, because the Canadian geese exist in our area and are going to locate somewhere. But maybe Ohio Geese Control can get the geese to leave this little pond in the corner of a busy urban park that is frequented by children and dogs, and take their aggressive ways and mad crapping to a more remote rural location, or one of those corporate park ponds with a fountain in the middle that no one actually walks around. Getting rid of the geese at the Schiller Park pond would make 2020 a little bit better.

Hue Do

There’s still a lot of fall color out there to enjoy. Bright leaves are hanging on to many of the trees and bushes, and multi-hued pumpkins and gourds decorate many German Village doorsteps, but the mums are the stars of the color display right now. They give a strong incentive to get outside and get some fresh air and exercise — while continuing to maintain appropriate social distancing, of course.

We’ve had perfect autumn weather in Columbus over the past few days — cool and crisp in the morning, and sunny and warm in the afternoon before sunset. Enjoy it, and the brilliant colors, while they last!

The Random Restaurant Tour —XLI

Here’s some tangible evidence that the entrepreneurial spirit in America remains strong — a new restaurant has opened up in our neighborhood. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, with all of the extraordinary challenges it poses for food service establishments, some people had sufficient confidence in their food and their business model to give a new restaurant a go. It’s great to see, and naturally we had to check it out.

The new restaurant is called Chapman’s Eat Market. It’s open for business in the old Max & Erma’s location on Third Street in German Village. If you ever visited the place when it was Max & Erma’s, you won’t recognize the interior of Chapman’s. All of the kitschy Max & Erma’s bric a brac has been removed, leaving a very clean, spare look. The space never looked better, or felt roomier — which is a good thing when you’re setting up tables that are appropriately distanced for your diners.

Chapman’s serves a set tasting menu that is a nice change of pace from the normal “order off the menu” restaurant. When we went on Friday we received an eight-course meal that included two dessert courses. Every one of the dishes, from the smoked salmon fritters that began our culinary adventure to the yuzu key lime pie that ended our journey, was excellent. My favorites were the pork shoulder lettuce wrap, pictured above, which included grilled pork shoulder, nuoc cham, cucumbers, jicama, peanuts and mint, the khao soi, with yellow curry, shrimp, chicken, fried noodles, pea leaf salad, banana, tomato, and peanut, and the duck confit leg and mole rojo, with cowboy beans, Carolina Gold Rice, pickled chayote, and roasted squash. I ate it all with relish, even though the dishes included more vegetable matter than I would ever have ordered for myself.

Three things stood out from our Chapman’s experience. The first was flavor; this is not a restaurant that is fearful of adding a nice kick to its dishes and laying out some creative spice and seasoning combinations. The second was texture; most of the dishes featured a very interesting and enjoyable crunch as part of the package. And the third was variety. In one eight-course setting, the offerings touched the bases of classic American, Chinese, Italian, and Mexican cuisine, sometimes in delightful combination. And the key lime pie, pictured below, was a beautifully tart way to bring a fine meal to closure.

If you want to try a new place and get a meal that might just make 2020 a bit more palatable, put Chapman’s on your checklist. You may well see us there — from an appropriate distance, of course.

At-Home Halloween

The Halloween decorations in German Village this year are amazing, and elaborate. Colossal spider webs and giant spiders are especially popular, but so are skeletons, very creepy ghosts, bats, rats, gravestones, witches, Frankenstein monsters, Jack o’lanterns, and virtually every other haunted symbol you might think of. And more pumpkins and gourds thank you can imagine. It makes our walks around the ‘hood a lot of fun.

I find myself wondering whether our prolonged COVID experience has contributed to to elaborateness of the decorations. If you’ve spent months trying to stay at home and keep your distance, finally getting the chance to decorate your house, express yourself, and have some fun on a ghoulish holiday may just be irresistible.

Street Walking

Since we’ve returned to Colimbus from Stonington, I’ve had to get my street walking reflexes back.

Not that kind of “streetwalking,” of course. I’m talking about literally walking in the street, with the traffic — exactly what your Mom told you not to do. In German Village, if you want to walk (and I do) and you want to maintain social distancing (and I do), you’re inevitably going to be veering out into the street from time to time to avoid approaching walkers and joggers on the sidewalks.

Street walking requires special awareness that wasn’t needed in Stonington. Up there, in our neighborhood, most streets don’t have sidewalks, so you walk in the street as a matter of course — but there’s really not all that much traffic, and not many parallel-parked cars (or joggers or bicycles, because of the abrupt steep inclines everywhere). In German Village, those are three of the things you’ve got to look out for when you venture into the street. You’ve got to be mindful of whether there are people who are in those parked cars you’re thinking of walking between in order to dodge those approaching walkers, because people in parked cars may be getting ready to pull out. And you need to be sure to look both ways, because you could have a cyclist or jogger approaching from either direction. And you’ve got to watch the cars, too, obviously— some of them are moving pretty fast, flouting the speed limit, and angry at the world. They don’t like sharing the street with us social distancers. And you need to be sure to wear white or other bright colors, to ensure you are seen by the drivers, cyclists, and joggers you’re trying to avoid.

I sometimes wonder whether walking in traffic to maintain social distancing is more dangerous than the coronavirus. It probably is, but it does keep you alert and on your toes first thing in the morning.

Between The Lines

They’ve started a new campaign in German Village. The aspirational goal: to bring order and regularity in on-street parking.

Since we’ve been here, parking has been — to put it mildly — chaotic. Most houses don’t have driveways or garages, so street parking is a necessity. To complicate things, there are a few zones where stickers are required and non-stickered cars can get ticketed, but other areas are open for parking by anyone. The result is that people park where they can, which often means precious street parking space is wasted by yawning gaps between cars that nevertheless aren’t quite big enough to accommodate a car. When you’re hunting for a nearby parking space late at night, the not-quite-big-enough gaps and wasted spaces can be frustrating.

The new approach seeks to conserve and fully employ the precious street parking space. The city has painted corners like the one shown above to define specific parking spaces, and has also posted signs like the one below explaining the program and noting that people who flout the spaces can be cited with a $47 ticket. I can’t speak to whether people are reading the signs — I did, at least— but they do seem to be honoring the new spaces and parking between the lines. That will mean more parking spaces for us all.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that painting indicated spots on streets would spur parking compliance and end the Wild West parking atmosphere. If the price of achieving more parking spaces is simply the cost of a few cans of white paint and the wages of whoever painted the corners, German Village residents can reasonably wonder why this simple solution wasn’t tried before. But let’s not be grudging, shall we? A delayed solution is still a solution, and the new program shows the city is paying attention to the unique needs of our community. That’s good to see.