Inching Back To The Norm At The North

Yesterday it was a brisk but bright day in Columbus. The B.A. Jersey Girl and I both had a hankering for some Momo Ghar dumplings and their killer sauce, so we decided to brave the stiff fall breeze and hike up to the North Market for lunch. It’s the first time we’ve been there since some distant time in the P.P. (Pre-Pandemic) Period.

I’m pleased to report that the North Market was bustling when we got there and decked out in its holiday finery. There were lots of shoppers downstairs, and diners like us looking for our lunches, and when we had purchased our dumplings and went upstairs to eat most of the tables in the large dining area were occupied. We grabbed one of the few open tables and proceeded to dig into our dumplings (which were exceptionally delicious, as always) and enjoy our lunch. Even when we left at about 1 p.m., and I snapped the above photo, there were still latecomers upstairs eating and lingering at their tables, and some shoppers downstairs, too.

I wouldn’t say the North Market is back to its normal, P.P. traffic and trade–yet–but I was heartened by the cars in the parking lot and the number of customers in the building. Of course, we wore masks when we were downstairs buying our lunch, in compliance with the order issued by Columbus’ mayor, but it was still great to see so many people out and about–Delta, Omicron, or other COVID-19 variants be damned. The North Market is a civic treasure and its businesses, like other Columbus small businesses, deserve our support. Yesterday’s experience suggests that other people share that feeling.

We’re gradually getting closer to the P.P. normal. And as more people get out and get back to their old habits like going to the North Market for lunch–and rediscover delights like Momo Ghar dumplings–the trend will grow stronger. It has been, and will be, a prolonged process, but we’re definitely getting closer.

Revisiting The Perfect PB And J

We’ve gotten carryout for dinner several times during our shut-in period, but lunch — with one exception — has been a homemade affair.  That means that I’ve eaten more peanut butter and jelly sandwiches over the past few weeks than I’ve probably eaten in the last 10 years.  My regular consumption of this legendary member of the sandwich family has increased my already high regard for this brilliant culinary invention, and also made me reflect on the elements of the perfect PB and J.  

As with any sandwich, bread is a key element.  Although I cut my teeth on PB and Js made with Wonder Bread, my adult tastes definitely favor a hearty wheat bread, preferably with a few seeds.  I like the bread toasted, too, because the toasting gives the sandwich an additional texture and crunch, and the warmth from the toasting makes it easier to get a uniform spread on the peanut butter, without ripping the bread to shreds. Making sure the spread is uniform, and also appropriately thin, also is important in order to avoid the dribble factor when biting into the sandwich.

As for the peanut butter, I’m an advocate for crunchy, also for texture reasons.  My jelly tastes, just like my tastes in bread, have changed since childhood.  Back then, the jelly was inevitably grape jelly, with an occasional foray into strawberry jam on special occasions.  Now, I favor raspberry or blueberry jams or preserves, also spread carefully to avoid running the risk of dropping a blob onto your pants or shirt front.  In fairness, however, I think there is only one wrong choice on the jelly:  orange marmalade.  I once new someone who zealously argued that orange marmalade was the preferred ingredient for a PB and J.  (I think that person has long since been committed.)

Cut the sandwich diagonally, serve with a glass of ice cold whole milk, and you’ve got a pretty good homemade lunch that makes the shut-in period more agreeable.

The Random Restaurant Tour (VII)

Yesterday the Wrestling Fan and I decided to stroll a few blocks down Gay Street to the newest restaurant in the ‘hood.  It’s called Pat and Gracie’s and it’s located in the spot formerly occupied by Lomonico’s, at the intersection of Gay and Grant.

I liked Lomonico’s, but Pat and Gracie’s brings a totally different vibe to the spot.  It’s got a wrap-around bar and many more tables than Lomonico’s did.  I’ve been to the place twice, and each time it’s been far more crowded that Lomonico’s ever was.  Crowds can have their downside — like having to wait for a table, which isn’t ideal when you’re just out for lunch — but they also bring a definite sense of bustling energy.  Pat and Gracie’s has that feel.  Yesterday we didn’t have trouble getting a table, because the Wrestling Fan wanted to go early to “beat the rush.”  (Given his advancing age, he’s obviously wise, but I’m guessing he’s also an “early bird special” guy come dinner time, too.)

I got the spicy chicken sandwich, pictured above, and the Wrestling Fan got a salad with chicken that was served in an enormous metal mixing bowl.  I can’t speak for the salad, which the WF polished off with relish — in fact, I tried not to even look at it given the presence of so many vegetables in one place — but the spicy chicken sandwich definitely hit the spot.  The chicken is marinated in buttermilk and fried, topped with ground jalapeno sauce and cheddar cheese (I had them hold the tomato that typically is part of the ensemble), and served on a toasted bun.  The sandwich is moist and crunchy at the same time and has a great kick to it.  My only suggestion to the proprietors would be to cut back somewhat on the fries served with the sandwich, or they’re going to have to start widening the chairs for the regulars.

 

The Random Restaurant Tour (IV)

Last week the Jersey Girl and I continued the random restaurant tour by leaving the friendly confines of downtown Columbus and heading north to the Italian Village area.  Our destination was a converted brick barn called Cosecha Cocina.

Italian Village is one of the areas of Columbus where the redevelopment wave is rolling along at tsunami-level strength.  Every time I visit, there is a cool new restaurant, brew pub, or breakfast joint in the neighborhood.  That’s because you can find two key components of redevelopment there:  inexpensive buildings that can be refurbished into cool spaces for your use, and a population of people in the immediate vicinity ready to frequent your establishment.  In the case of Italian Village, businesses can draw upon both the downtown crowd, who need only drive, walk or bike a few blocks up Third, and the flood of people moving into new condos and apartment buildings in Italian Village.

Cosecha Cocina is a happy addition to the Italian Village ‘hood.  It definitely satisfies the cool building requirement, with its cavernous internal space and outdoor eating area, and its menu of traditional and modern Mexican fare will keep that flood of people coming back.  During our visit the Jersey Girl and I split some brussels sprouts — served piping hot with melted cheese — and I tried the pork meatball torta with esquites, a traditional Mexican street corn dish, on the side.

The fact that brussels sprouts and meatballs are on the menu at all tells you that Cosecha Cocina isn’t your Daddy’s kind of tacos and enchiladas Mexican restaurant.  Another clue is the quality and delicate flavoring of the food itself.  The pork meatball torta, which features chipotle tomato sauce, cilantro, black beans, avocado, and cheese and is served on airy, crunchy bread, was succulent and a reminder that Mexican food doesn’t have to be overpowering on the spice scale.  The brussels sprouts were terrific, and the esquites corn salad was a perfect, light accompaniment to the meal.  The Jersey Girl, who tried the chicken tinga tacos, raved about her food, too.

The zone of lunch places for the lucky workers in downtown Columbus continues to expand, limited only by their willingness to get out and try someplace new.  With options like Cosecha Cocina only a bridge and a few blocks away, the incentive to experiment with a new lunch spot keeps growing.

Hot Noodles, Hot Day

IMG_1320It was a beastly hot day today — so what better thing to do for lunch than hike more than a mile across the river in the broiling sunshine to get to Dinin’ Hall?

The Unkempt Guy, the Bus-Riding Conservative and I decided to tough it out anyway.  We were intrigued by the fact that the Dinin’ Hall calendar showed that The Urban Pig and Mashita Noodles would be there dishing out food truck and food cart goodness.  Who can resist a food truck called The Urban Pig, with a capital “The”?  Obviously, this is not just any Urban Pig — it is The Urban Pig, just as OSU is The Ohio State University.

When three sweaty walkers finally arrived, however, we learned that The Urban Pig was not present.  It had succumbed to the bane of food trucks — a mechanical breakdown.  Our consternation was only momentary, however, because that meant we all got to eat the excellent noodle bowls served up by the friendly, hard-working folks at Mashita Noodles.  I had mine with shredded pork, to give a nod to The Urban Pig, and I ate every morsel and gladly spooned up the last drop of the traditional Japanese broth.  Surprisingly, a bowl of hot noodles, pork, cuke and radish slices, and broth goes down every well indeed on a hot day.

We savored our noodle bowls, our cold water, and the shady, fan-breezy atmosphere in Dinin’ Hall, then ventured out into the harsh glare and humidity once more.  By the time we got back to the office we were wilted and dripping and had decided that Dinin’ Hall might be past the outer walking limits on days when the thermometer hits the mid-90s.  That just means that, on the next stifling summer day, we’ll have to let the BRC suggest a bus route instead.

Ode To A Twinkie

A news article recently discussed the 37 ingredients to a Twinkie, many of which apparently are mined rather than grown.  So, the Twinkie is indeed all-natural, but in a different, more earthy way.

I don’t care.  Although I no longer eat Twinkies, they are a fondly remembered staple of my grade school and junior high packed lunches.  And so, in the honor of the Twinkie and its epic contribution to the lunch times of generations of American children, I offer this bit of doggerel (with apologies to Walt Whitman and his poem, O Captain!  My Captain!):

O Twinkie!  My Twinkie!

O Twinkie!  My Twinkie!  The noon hour now draws nigh

My morning classes will be done, to you my thoughts do fly

The bell will ring, the rush will start, and we will race to lunch

The crinkled paper bag will ope, on PBJ I’ll munch

But O!  Dessert!  Dessert!

My hungry heart doth beat

For in my sack I soon shall find

A cream-filled sponge cake treat.


O Twinkie!  My Twinkie!  Your sponge cake damp and gold

And filled with tasty frosting, sweet and white and bold

The wrapper tears, my eyes grow wide, the sticky mass I grasp

And clutch to waiting bosom like Cleo and the asp

And so to eat!  To eat!  To eat!

With glass of milk, ice cold

Then lick till clean the bottom square

Of its crumbs, wet and gold.


O Twinkie!  My Twinkie!  My lustrous sack lunch friend

The sight of you gives rise to thoughts of lunch’s happy end

Your taste I crave, and I desire to see you on my plate

I do not mind if you are made of calcium sulfate

Fear not, my friend!  Fear not!  Fear not!

We’ll eat you still with pride

Come Polysorbate 60, hell,

or grim diglyceride!