Condado Downtown

IMG_1238The food fare in downtown Columbus has improved tremendously over the past 10 years, and it keeps getting better.  The latest welcome entrant is Condado, which already has a solid core of fans who’ve frequented its location near the OSU campus.  Yesterday, when the Jersey Girl, the Origamist, the Bus-Riding Conservative and I decided to check it out for lunch, the place was jammed, and I’m guessing that at least some of the patrons weren’t Condado newbies like we were.

Condado is all about tacos.  (And, according to its impressive beverage menu, it’s all about tequila, too, but this was lunch, after all, so checking out the tequila and Mexican beer choices will just have to wait for another day.)  There are some standard taco choices, but you also have the option of building your own taco by filling out a checklist, like you would at a sushi bar.  The checklist allows you to choose a tortilla (hard corn, soft flour, or more exotic combinations), a protein, toppings, cheeses, salsa, and sauces that range in the heat index all the way up to ghost pepper, which carries an “INFERNO WARNING” attached.  After some careful deliberation, you make your choices and then hang out in the happily raucous Condado atmosphere until your waitperson brings your tacos out.

When you go to a taco place, you always wonder how big the tacos will be.  I was hungry and got two of them, and it was plenty of food.  One of the tacos filled a “ju-ju” shell (flour exterior, corn interior, with queso and chorizo) with roasted pollo, pickled red onions, chihuahua cheese, salsa verde, and condado secret taco sauce, which got three flames on the heat meter.  It was lip-smacking superb, with just the right heat level.  The other option combined braised beef brisket, cilantro and onion, queso fresco, salsa rioja, and cilantro lime aioli in a flour tortilla.  It was good, too, but the number of sauces in the soft taco made it messy to eat.  I don’t mind licking my fingers, so I really didn’t care, but in the future I’m going to either cut down on the salsa/sauce combos or stick to the tortillas that include a hard interior shell.  I’m happy to report that the BRC, ever an adventurous soul, tried the ghost pepper sauce and lived to tell the tale with only mild discomfort, thanks to the timely intervention of some heat-killing guacamole.

Condado offers both interior seating and exterior seating on a small patio filled with picnic tables.  When we were there, both seating areas were bustling.  We all agreed that Condado would be a prime place to come after work for a few Mexican beers or a slug of that tequila, some chips and freshly made salsa, and maybe a taco for the road.

I’m glad to see a new downtown Columbus restaurant get off to a flying start — especially this restaurant, which is on the ground floor of one of the Highpoint buildings next to Columbus Commons.  The High Street retail space in those buildings has been slow to fill up, and the downtown lunch crowd has been waiting patiently.  If Condado proves to be as successful as our initial visit suggests, that may encourage other restauranteurs to come join the party.  Those of us who work and live in and around the downtown area would be happy to have them.

A Walk Down High Street

Last night after the Ohio State game ended I walked from Ohio Stadium across campus, and then down High Street to the Short North.  It was an eye-opener.

A bit of historical context:  when I went to OSU in the late ’70s, the stretch of High Street between campus and downtown was a grim wasteland.  The sleaziness started in the South Campus area — where bars like Papa Joe’s and the Travel Agency were generally viewed as more drunken, debauched, decrepit, and derelict than their North Campus counterparts — and then went steadily downhill as you moved away from campus and toward downtown.  Most of the buildings along that sorry stretch of High Street were either X-rated “burlesque” theaters, or XXX peep show emporiums, or boarded up and abandoned, and if you tried to walk the area you definitely felt a strong sense of physical insecurity among the hard-faced people who were present.

It was an area you would visit if you wanted to get a picture of people who were down on their luck for your Photojournalism class.  There was no Short North then, and the Skid Row, porn-invested grittiness extended for block after block until you reached the area of the Nationwide building and the northern edge of downtown.  I’m sure the urban planners of the late ’70s wondered how far the area would decline, and what to do about it.

But, how things have changed!  Now the crummy South Campus bars are long gone, replaced by the bright and shining Gateway project, with its bookstores and restaurants and apartments, and the Short North has been reborn into a residential/dining/arts/hipster enclave that has been steadily inching its way north along the High Street corridor.

I thought that there would still have to be a buffer area of the old sleaziness that I would have to cross before I hit the Short North and its curved over-the-street lighting — but I was wrong.  Now the High Street walker moves past the Gateway area, heading south, and encounters . . . more pubs and apartments.  In fact, I had no idea there were so many different brew pubs in Columbus.  Sure, there are some street people present, and sure, the area doesn’t have the high-end feel that you get in the Short North, but on my walk there was never any hint of safety concerns or encounters with angry, apparently deranged people — both of which were staples of the late ’70s era.

To be sure, it was a football Saturday night, so there were more people on the streets than you would get on a normal weeknight, but the fact that people were walking from the campus area to the Short North in the first place tells you something about how the area has changed.  When I finally reached the Short North and caught the CBus to complete the rest of my journey back to German Village, I couldn’t help but be impressed at how things have changed for the better.

The Rise Of The Knife-And-Fork Sandwich

I like a good sandwich at lunch.  These days, however, it is getting increasingly difficult to find a true sandwich — that is, something tasty placed between two pieces of some kind of bread that you can pick up in your hand and eat without too much muss or fuss.

IMG_6130There’s no problem with the tasty part, that’s for sure.  Take this delightful double cheeseburger I got today from deNovo Bistro and Bar, one of the many good restaurants on High Street in the downtown area.  It was very savory, indeed, with its medium rare beef, sliced onion, and melted cheese and sauce.  The dusted fries were excellent, too.

No, it’s the pick up in your hand without muss or fuss part that has become the problem.  The amount of food being put between the bread slices — and especially the heapings of melty, saucy concoctions that make your mouth burst with flavor — just make it impossible for you to take a bite out of a handheld sandwich.  If you try, you’re going to end up with food falling to the plate and onto your lap, hands that are covered with goo, and a paper napkin that is soaked and probably ripped to shreds, besides.  Unless you want to look like a slob and run the embarrassing risk of stray dogs racing over to lick your fingers clean you need to recognize reality and use the civilized utensils to slice up and wolf down these gooey, overflowing masterpieces.

So call it the emerging era of the knife-and-fork sandwich.  It’s not necessarily a bad thing, just . . . different.  If the Earl of Sandwich could eat some of these creative approaches to his namesake, I honestly don’t think he would mind.

Buses On High

High Street is one of Columbus’ main drags.  It runs north-south through the heart of downtown and connects it to German Village, the Arena District, the Short North, the University District, and Clintonville.  Now city planners and the Central Ohio Transit Authority are wrestling with a thorny question:  Should High Street also be one of Columbus’ main bus routes — or even be a bus route at all?

IMG_5232Currently, High Street is a primary bus artery.  Sixty-six buses an hour — more than one a minute — rumble north to south down High Street during peak hours.  A COTA consultant recommended cutting that number to 46, and after people complained that the plan didn’t go far enough COTA proposed additional modifications that will reduce the number to 26 north-south buses an hour.  The new plan would move much of the bus traffic to Front, Third, and Fourth Streets and is contingent on the city agreeing to convert Front Street from a one-way to a two-way street.

This exercise in urban planning is a tough balancing act.  Many people (like the Bus-Riding Conservative) take the bus to workplaces in downtown Columbus, and COTA would like to encourage even more to do so.  Moving bus stops to places several blocks away wouldn’t exactly encourage more ridership.  At the same time, the buses are loud and contribute greatly to traffic congestion.  In addition, many High Street business owners feel that the transfer stations, where bus riders gather to wait for their rides, may be used as locations for drug dealing, discourage foot traffic by potential customers, and are unsightly, besides. If may just be coincidence, but while downtown generally is bustling with rehabbing and construction, there remain many vacant storefronts and parking lots on High Street.

Earlier this week I walked to a High Street restaurant on a path that took me past the busy transfer station at Broad and High, where pedestrians must follow a gauntlet between the sidewalk structure and groups of people sitting on the wall in front of the Statehouse.  It’s not exactly a pleasant walk, and it doesn’t show off the Statehouse in a great light, either.  Although I recognize that urban planning shouldn’t be all about how I personally am affected, I’ll be happy to see fewer buses, and transfer stations, on High Street.