Searching, Again, For The Most Interesting Dog In The World!

Russell’s dog Betty still has a lot of puppy in her, and taking her for a walk is a bit of an adventure. Every glimpse of another dog — regardless of age, breed, size, or whether they’re wearing one of those embarrassing head cones — puts Betty on full sensory alert and causes her to immediately begin panting and lunging forward in total sled dog mode. The other dogs are obviously the most fascinating things in the world. In German Village, which has more dogs out walking at any given moment than any other location in the free world, that means the Bettywalker is constantly trotting, arm extended and leash pulled taut, toward one dog or another. For Betty, only squirrels can rival other dogs as an attention-getter.

Imagine what it would be like if humans reacted in this way, treating every other person like they were The Most Interesting Man In The World in the Dos Equis commercials and making a beeline to every stranger you see on the street to give them a heavy-breathing, up-close-and-personal once-over. I don’t know about you, but I’m glad humans are a bit more diffident about other members of their species.

Hey, a squirrel!

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Unplowed Ground

We got several inches of snow last night. That means we’ll be living with a snow-covered street for the next few weeks, because forecasts are for temperatures with highs in the 20s, or below, for the foreseeable future.

It’s not that Columbus has inadequate plowing resources; in fact, the city’s road crews are pretty good. No, it’s because our street, like most of the streets in German Village, is paved with brick. Brick streets and snow plows don’t mix — unless you like plows hurling bricks from the road bed into parked cars, passing traffic, and pedestrians.

So we’ll have to wait to dispose of the snow the old-fashioned way . . . by melting.

Neighborhood Wish List

The spot in the middle of German Village where the original Max and Erma’s once operated for four decades has been vacant for a few months now, without any apparent signs of activity. Recently, though, stickers that look like those irritating “My name is” name tags that always fall off your suit coat appeared on the front windows. Yesterday Kish and I took a closer look, and the stickers represent some people’s wishes for what business should now occupy the property. I’m not sure whether the stickers were filled out by neighbors, former employees, Trader Joe’s shareholders, or somebody else who likes comics. Seriously . . . a comic book shop?

I’d like to see a restaurant in the spot. Something ethnic, perhaps. Maybe a good Szechuan spot?

Max Void

The original Max & Erma’s restaurant, a German Village landmark for 45 years, has closed.  It wasn’t killed by lack of traffic or any of the other issues that often put restaurants out of business — it was the building in which Max & Erma’s is located that apparently was the real culprit.

The company that owns the restaurant announced that the building “can no longer maintain the standards our guests deserve,” with one of the principal problems being the lack of an ADA-accessible bathroom.  The company says it had “thoroughly explored available options, but both costs and covenants have proven to be to prohibitive.”  This isn’t surprising for anyone who’s been to that quirky brick building — a building which lent some of the quirkiness to the Max & Erma’s ambiance generally.  It was filled with little nooks and crannies and abrupt turns, and if you had to use the facilities, you had to navigate a narrow flight of steep stairs that took you into the basement.  The original structures in German Village just weren’t built for wheelchairs, walkers, and other devices that are commonplace in modern America.

The closure of the restaurant leaves a kind of weird void on Third Street, because most of the people who live in, or visit, German Village expect to find a bustling Max & Erma’s, where they can get a cheeseburger and a beer and check out the quirky wall decorations.  Forty-five years is a really long time by German Village standards, taking the original M&E’s back to the early days when the rehabbing wave was first washing over the neighborhood.  Two of our friends had their first date at the original M&E’s back in the ’70s and liked to have a meal there when they came to Columbus for a visit.  Now they won’t be able to do so.

We’ll miss the original Max & Erma’s, but German Village being what it is, the inevitable question now is:  what’s going to go into that building now?  With the closing of M&E’s and Caterina, a few blocks closer to downtown, we’ve got vacancies in two prime spots on Third Street.  If the ADA issues can be resolved, we can always use another pub, restaurant, or shop.

 

The Value Of A Park

Living near Schiller Park — a sprawling, 150-year-old green space that covers multiple city blocks and is home to mature trees, picnic tables, lots of shade, a duck pond, a rec center, tennis courts, a playground, an outdoor basketball court, and a stage where the Actors Theatre of Columbus performs on summer evenings — has really shown me the value that a park brings to a community.

German Village has a very strong and distinctive neighborhood feel, and Schiller Park is a big part of that.  The park  is constantly in use, from the joggers and dog walkers who circle it in the early morning hours to the mid-day basketball and tennis players and parents pushing their kids ever higher on the swings, to the late afternoon birthday parties on the picnic tables beneath huge shade trees and people reading books on benches or playing fetch with their dogs.  You see the same people over and over, which of course reinforces the feeling of community, and you take pride in this beautiful patch of green that draws people like a magnet.  German Village without Schiller Park wouldn’t really be German Village at all.

In the American neighborhoods built before 1900, parks were of course part of the design — because green space and parkland were traditional in the countries of Europe from which many Americans of that era immigrated.  I’m sure the German immigrants who gave German Village its name never gave a second thought to putting in a large park, because it was just expected and obvious.  

At some point after 1900, though, the builders of suburban communities saw parks as less necessary, whether it was because they figured people would be driving around and not interested in walking to a park, or because they concluded that the acreage of a park could be more profitably devoted to still more houses.  As a result, many suburban communities are seriously park-deprived.  

It’s too bad, because a nice park really makes a difference and brings a lot of value to a neighborhood.

South Village Grille

When a new restaurant opens in your neighborhood, it’s always fun to visit for the first time — to take in the ambiance and setting, scan the totally unfamiliar menu, and try a dish that might, if things go right, become a special favorite.

Last night Kish and I went to the South Village Grille, which has been open for about a month.  It’s on Thurman, in the spot formerly occupied by Easy Street, which was a favorite of ours.  But where Easy Street was a classic neighborhood joint and good brunch and burger place, the South Village Grille has a different aim:  according to the hostess and our waiter, it’s looking to recreate a kind of New York bistro setting, with food (and cocktails) made from scratch.  The interior is open and airy — a far cry from the Easy Street days, when just about every inch of wall space was cluttered with things like Frank Sinatra’s mug shot — with cool light fixtures.  And large mirrors on the walls. I’m not sure exactly what New York bistros are supposed to look like, but this design was both intimate and visually appealing.

More important, the food was appealing — in fact, it was terrific.  Kish and I started by splitting six enormous raw Chesapeake Bay oysters, topped with a tasty Thai vinaigrette sauce of the chef’s devising, and then I went for the hanger steak and fries and Kish had a wedge salad and the short rib.  My steak was great — cooked just right to medium rare — and Kish’s short rib was moist and tender.  She raved about her wedge salad, too.

We closed things off with strawberry shortcake (it is summer, after all) that featured a crisp shortcake biscuit, ice cream, a kind of creme fraiche sauce, and spicy, seasoned strawberries.  I can attest that it tasted as good as it looks.

I’m pretty sure we’ll be adding the South Village Grille to our list of dine-around favorites.