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.

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.

It’s A Food Truck World

I worked hard at the Ohioana Book Festival today.  There was a big turnout, lots of books were purchased, and I helped to make sure that visitors who signed up for Ohioana information via email and spun a wheel got their prizes.

By the time my shift was over, I was a hungry camper.  Fortunately, the Ohioana folks had thoughtfully arranged for a rich menu of food trucks to satisfy those of us who might want to tie on the feedbag, waiting in a row just outside the entrance to the Festival.  And what terrific options!  Spinelli’s DeliPer ZootGreen MeaniePitabilities.  Jeni’s Ice Cream.  All getting raves for their food from ravenous bibliophiles.

I finally decided on Ajumama, which features Korean fare.  On the day before Mother’s Day, how could I not pick a place with “mama” in the name?

I had the Amdong Chicken, a mix of tender white and dark meat in a rich yet delicate sauce, served over some very tasty sweet potato noodles.  It was wonderful, and I ate every last morsel.  In fact, I would gladly have licked the bowl clean but for concern about public embarrassment.  If you get a chance, check Ajumama out — its appearance schedule is posted on Facebook and Twitter, and it appears regularly at the Hill’s Market in Worthington.  (I’m looking at you, Dr. Science.)

Food trucks are fabulous.  Take people whose dream is to cook and serve the food they love, put them on wheels, and let them move around Columbus, creating magical meals for the masses.

As the Ohioana Book Festival experience showed, Columbus’ food truck scene just keeps getting better and better.  This summer, we’ll be looking for the food trucks on weekdays in the vicinity of the Columbus Commons, to add a little spice to our humdrum workdays.  We’ll also be looking for a chance to grab some grub from Ajumama again — even if it isn’t Mother’s Day.