The Random Restaurant Tour (XXVI)

The original Max & Erma’s restaurant was located only a few blocks from our place in German Village.  It closed more than a year ago, and now the space has been “repurposed.”  By day, it hosts a co-working venture, and as the cocktail hour approaches the space transitions to a place called Wonderbar that features food from Pierogi Mountain.  The other day, Kish and I dropped by with the Columbus Featured Artist to check out the new spot.

The bar itself will seem familiar to anyone who went to the old M&E, because they’ve kept many of the fixtures and oddities that made the old M&E bar memorable.  And yet, there is a decidedly different vibe.  Whereas the M&E bar was a place where regulars camped out for the night, Wonderbar seems to attract a much younger, more diverse crowd, and the bar area itself seems a lot more energetic and more fast-paced.  Many of its patrons appears to see it as a good place to stop for a beer or cocktail on their way to somewhere else, so there’s lots of movement and coming and going.

If you’re interested in pierogis or other food from Pierogi Mountain, you order from a window to and take a marker to your table to be served when the food is ready.  The three of us decided to share a sampler of every kind of pierogi, and I also got a dish of shredded chicken, dumplings and gravy.  Pierogi Mountain says its pierogis are great drinking food, and it’s not hard to see why:  if you want to establish a solid consumed-food “base” before going all in on a few drinks, you’re not going to do much better than doughy morsels stuffed with potatoes, cheese, and other goodies and topped with sour cream.  The chicken dish I got was in the same belly bombing vein. It was substantial stuff that all went down pretty well with a Wonderbar brown ale.

I have no idea how the co-working venture is going, but I’m glad to see the old M&E spot open again and contributing to our neighborhood nighttime options.

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The Random Restaurant Tour (XXV)

At any given moment, there’s always a hot restaurant in town.  It’s the place that has gotten some favorable press, that has a certain distinctive buzz about it, that everyone is itching to try.  In Columbus, the restaurants don’t come any hotter than Service Bar, which has been getting great press — including a recent rave from no less than the New York Times.  Last week, Kish and I decided to check it out.

Service Bar is part of Middle West Spirits, located just off Fifth Avenue in the zone between the northern part of the Short North and the southern edge of the Ohio State campus area. It’s in a bright, fresh space, with room for a row of tables, a long common table, a private dining room, and a bar.  The wait staff is terrific — friendly, professional, and knowledgeable.  A fine wait staff is a pretty strong sign of fine dining to come.

When we were deciding on an appetizer, we looked down at the row of tables where we were sitting and every one — without exception — had ordered the “cheesy poofs.”  These are a mound of colossal pork rinds served with pimento cheese spread that you slather on.  Our waiter said they seem to be a favorite for patrons, so we gave them a try.  They were greasy and cheesy and good, but the order was just too much food for the two of us, and we wanted to save room for our entrees.

We both ordered the Mongolian glazed short rib for our entree, and here the meal really hit its stride.  The short rib was meaty and luscious, topped with an interesting assortment of mini cucumber slices and other items, and surrounded by dollops of a delectable sauce.  The challenge was to carefully assemble each forkful to feature meat, the different flavors and textures of the toppings, and a healthy dousing of the sauce, and when you successfully met the challenge the taste combination was incredible.  But to take the whole dish a step further, the meat was accompanied by three “bao knots” — moist, doughy, chewy morsels of bready delight that were a perfect complement to the meat.  I think I could probably eat a thousand bao knots and never think of the words “low carb” again.

After a main course like that, we had to get dessert, and went for the carrot cake with our after-dinner cup of decaf.  The cake was light and delectable, served with a schmeer of meringue, some crunchy items, and a delicately flavored ice cream.  It ended the meal with a bang, and was the kind of dessert where you find yourself surreptitiously scraping the plate multiple times just to get a final taste before you reluctantly allow your server to take it away.

Service Bar lived up to the hype, and then some.

The Random Restaurant Tour (XXIV)

In my book, meat loaf is under-appreciated from a culinary creativity standpoint.  There’s room for a little flair in the choice of ground meats to use, and also in the amount, and kind, of bread crumbs to add to the meat mixture.  Depending on the deftness of the preparation, the consistency of the meat loaf can vary widely, from moist to dry and from almost crumbly to a dense, almost impossible to cut brick.  And when you put a slice of meat loaf into a sandwich and think about the different toppings you could add, the possibilities become almost endless.

Saturday afternoon Kish and I took in a film at the Drexel and, because we got there a bit early, we decided to see whether we could find a place for a quick bite to eat.  That’s how we stumbled upon Newfangled Kitchen, a practitioner of the meat loaf arts located in the same block as the Drexel.  The NK offers different kinds of sandwiches, salads, and soups, but the meat loaf sandwiches are appropriately placed at the top of the menu.  In short, the NK gives the meat loaf sandwich the respect it so richly deserves.

All of the meat loaf sandwiches looked good, so I asked the counter person for her recommendation.  She said The Fang is the most popular meat loaf sandwich option, because people love the Fang sauce, but her personal favorite was the Southern Melt because of the pimento cheese.  I’m not a big pimento cheese fan, but I really like grilled sandwiches, so I went along with her suggestion, but hold the tomato.  It turned out to be an excellent decision.  The marbled rye was crisp and crunchy, the meat loaf was succulent, and the melted pimento cheese and red onion gave the sandwich a very hearty and much appreciated zing.  Kish and I split a bottle of diet Cheerwine, a kind of cherry cola that fit perfectly with the Melt.

It’s hard to believe that the Fang sauce could make a better sandwich — but when you find a place that takes a meat loaf sandwich seriously, you’ve got to try all the options just to be sure.  It’s nice to know that, in the future, we can get to the Drexel early and enjoy a little meat loaf artistry to fortify us for the art film to come.

The Random Restaurant Tour (XXII)

In a community called German Village, there should be a German restaurant or three.  We’ve got Schmidt’s Sausage Haus, which has been a German Village landmark for decades, we’ve got Valter’s at the Maennerchor, and now we’ve got the Alpine German Restaurant and Bar, which opened recently in the building formerly occupied by the Juergen’s Restaurant and Bakery.

On Friday night Kish and I had our first dinner at the Alpine.  We figured a cold winter evening was a good time to try the place, because we’d only have to walk a few blocks to get there and because, let’s face it, German food is well suited to frigid temperatures.  The Alpine has a snug little dining room — I’d recommend making reservations if you’re going there for dinner — and offers a full range of German fare.  That means lots of different meat, potato, cheese, and bread dishes.  It’s what my grandmother would have called “stick to your ribs” food.

I’m a traditionalist, so I went for the veal weinerschnitzel with mushrooms, cheesy spaetzle, and a bread dumpling.  The veal was lightly breaded and tender, the spaetzle was like macaroni and cheese nuggets, and the bread dumpling was delightfully moist.  It was the kind of meal that encouraged you to get as many items as possible onto your fork and into your mouth at the same time, and it went perfectly with a full-bodied glass of red wine.  I ate every bit of it.  Kish got a cucumber salad and the goulash, which was too much for her to finish.  She took home the rest and I happily reheated it and had it for lunch on Saturday, and it was great, too.

I’m pleased to report that, after careful deliberation, we decided not to have dessert, because we’d already maxxed out the carb meter and wanted to demonstrate some semblance of moderation.  But I can also report that, with that meal under our belts, we were properly fortified — you might say Alpinized — as we walked home in freezing temperatures.

 

The Random Restaurant Tour (XXI)

Sometimes, you just want something quick over the noon hour.  Yesterday, work demanded that the New Mentee and I get back to our desks promptly, so she suggested that we head to the Elia Athenian Grill.  It’s in one of the storefronts along High Street near the corner of Broad and High, where a lot of food places have come and gone in recent years.  Unlike some of its predecessors, Elia has shown some staying power.

Elia Athenian Grill is designed for the busy worker who is not going to be lingering over lunch.  You order at a counter, choosing from four base options — a pita, a salad, a grain bowl, or a “mixed bowl” — and then you identify toppings to be added as you move down the line.  By the time you reach the cashier and pay your food is ready and you grab your tray and head to one of the nearby tables.

I went the pita route, and had them assemble a pocket of “chicken yeero” — chopped chicken, helpfully presented on the menu in phonetic fashion for those of us who always wondered exactly how “gyro” is pronounced — with onions, feta cheese, and tzatziki sauce.  And, because the preparer behind the counter said it was “traditional,” she added a few french fries on top.  I’m not sure that french fries are in fact traditional Greek fare, but the meat was good, the sauce added a pleasant zing, and adding a few fries meant that I got a reasonably limited exposure to french fries without have to deal with a mound of them.  In short, the pita was good, and filling.

The New Mentee went for something called a Power Green Mix salad, which featured kale, romaine, spinach, chards, and cabbage, hummus, olives, some kind of non-meat substance that looked like meatballs, and God knows what else.  There was a lot of leafy green stuff in that bowl, so I tried to avert my eyes and not give it too close an inspection.  Clearly, the New Mentee needs mentoring in the food department!  Nevertheless, I did observe that, after eating about half of the Power Green Mix, she walked back to the firm, clutching her carry-out bowl, with a demonstrably more powerful stride.

Elia obviously has a solid core of regulars; the Bus Riding Conservative came in when we were there and no doubt grabbed a Power Green Mix to consume at his desk.  And the New Mentee was right — we were in and out in 45 minutes, easy.  Elia Athenian Grill is a good option if you’re in downtown Columbus looking for something speedy . . . or a Power Green Mix.

The Random Restaurant Tour (XX)

The Ringside Bar & Grill is one of the oldest establishments in Columbus, dating back to 1897.  Also known to those of us of a certain age as Clem’s — the name of the gruff, cigar-chomping boxing fan sitting at the bar who ran the place for years — it’s a modest brick structure in Pearl Alley, tucked in behind the Rhodes Tower and the other buildings fronting Broad Street.

These days the Ringside is also one of the unlucky businesses shrouded by the massive scaffolding apparatus surrounding the Rhodes Tower, where lots of exterior work is being done.  The Ringside has exercised a little self help, decorating the concrete abutments for the scaffolding to direct patrons to the front door and hanging signs on the scaffolding itself to remind people that the Ringside, and the other restaurants in the alley, remain open for business.

Yesterday a group of us decided to hit the Ringside on a rainy day.  Inside, the place is a snug joint that has the warmth and pleasant feel of an Irish pub, with the kitchen on one side, the polished wooden bar on another, a row of wooden booths against the wall, and some tables in the middle.  I always feel right at home at the Ringside.

And the place always serves a very fine burger, too.  Yesterday I went for the patty melt, and I got a piping hot, juicy burger on crunchy toast, dripping with melted cheese and sauteed onions, served with kettle chips.  It was excellent, and left me well nourished for the afternoon’s work.  I hope patrons don’t let the scaffolding deter them — the Ringside is right there where it always has been, ready to dish out one of the very best burgers in downtown Columbus.

The Random Restaurant Tour (XIX)

Sometimes, you only need to look at a menu to determine whether a place is likely to be good, or bad.  When it comes to a BBQ joint, you’re looking for a menu that is brief, and preferably written on the wall rather than on laminated menus that are handed out to patrons.  That’s because, if you’re turning out the highest quality barbecue, it’s got to be the exclusive focus of your efforts.  You can’t be wasting time worrying about creating new salads, special soups, or other, lesser items.

Yesterday we ventured out of the downtown area to try the offerings of Smoked on High.  I’d heard about SoH from several friends and the word of mouth was very strong, so when the Red Sox Fan suggested yesterday that we give it a shot I was all for it.  We drove, because it was pelting down rain — a daily occurrence this August — and SoH is located just south of downtown on High Street, in a converted house located on the border between German Village and the Brewery District.

SoH passed the BBQ menu test with flying colors.  According to the options posted on the wall on the entrance to the order area, you can choose from brisket, pork, chicken, or ribs, a handful of sides, and three sauce options.  Oh, and yesterday chili was available as a special.  It was a visible demonstration of commitment to barbecue, and nothing but.

Of course, I went for the brisket sandwich, with mac n’ cheese and cornbread as sides.  When I ordered the brisket the cook pulled a virgin slab out of the oven, glistening with a great char, and sliced it up for my sandwich.  I was given my food, had decided to try the spicy and mustard and vinegar sauces, had paid for the combo, and was headed to my seat in a few seconds.  The speed was appreciated, because after looking at the meat I was definitely eager to dig in.

The sandwich was terrific — the meat was awesome, and the Red Sox Fan aptly noted that the bun was appropriately substantial to hold up against the weight of the meat piled on it — and the mac n’ cheese and cornbread were delectable, too.  Although it was a very close call, I decided I prefer the mustard and vinegar sauce.

Smoked on High is a short drive from downtown, but it’s also just a short walk from our house in German Village.  I’m pretty sure I’m going to become a regular.