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.

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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.

The Random Restaurant Tour (XVII)

Pecan Penny’s is the new BBQ joint in downtown Columbus.  It’s located in the old Ray Johnson’s Fish Market building on Main Street, between Third and Fourth.  Yesterday, JV, the Unkempt Guy and I decided to venture forth into an end of July downpour and check it out for the first time.

The set-up at Pecan Penny’s is different than at most restaurants, but familiar territory for barbecue aficionados.  You order at the counter from a menu posted on the wall, take your tray to go fetch your drink, and before you know it your order appears and you find a table, inside or outside, to sit down and eat.  The delivery of my order took about the blink of an eye, and I got my food before I’d even filled my water glass.  If you’re interested in something quick, Pecan Penny’s is the place for you.

Oh, and the barbecue is pretty good, too.  I got the brisket with mac and cheese, which also comes with some toasted bread and a large homemade pickle chip.  I doused the meat with some Hot Grandpa sauce — apparently a PP staple — in honor of JV, whose going to be a grandpa here soon, although of a decidedly lower temperature.  The brisket was moist, smoky, and quite good, with the HG sauce adding a nice zing to it.  The mac and cheese, which is infused with crunchy bread crumbs, was very tasty indeed and a great complement to the brisket, and the toast was good, too.  I ate everything except the pickle chip and enjoyed it all.

JV got the pulled pork and baked beans and gave them an enthusiastic thumbs-up, and the UG also enjoyed the brisket.  During lunch the UG regaled us with tales of his home barbecuing and meat-smoking prowess, but the fact that he got some kind of cucumber-oriented side dish made me question his true barbecue bona fides.  Really, UG?  Cukes, rather than mac and cheese or baked beans?  I shake my head in dismay.

By the way, Pecan Penny’s has a very pleasant, informal atmosphere, with a nice wait staff, too.  There is a bar area, a front of the building patio, and a back of the building fire pit.  It has the laid-back, relaxed vibe that makes you think it would be a good place to hang with friends, eat a little charred meat, and enjoy an adult beverage or three.  The lunch crew will definitely be back.

The Random Restaurant Tour (XVI)

Sometimes, the story of a restaurant isn’t about the good food you’ve enjoyed — it’s about how you never got to sample the fare because the place went toes up before you ever got a chance to visit.

The restaurant business is a notoriously difficult one, particularly for stand-alone start-ups. Statistics show that more than half of newly established restaurants will be out of business within three years.  The most common reasons for failure, according to the experts, are lack of sufficient cash flow and capitalization, a concept that doesn’t work, a bad location, and poor quality food.

In our little section of downtown Columbus, we’ve seen several restaurants close their doors recently.  Stack’d is one that I never got a chance to try.  Located at the corner of Third Street and Lynn Alley about a block from our firm, Stack’d billed itself as “The Flavor Architects” and offered a diverse menu of sandwiches, salads, pizzas, chips, and smoothies.  It was open for a few months, then posted a sign saying that management had gone south for the winter, then a sign that the restaurant could be rented for training, and finally the “for sale” sign that is there now.  Why did Stack’d fail?  Who knows?  The only word-of-mouth I heard about Stack’d when it was open, from one person, was that the food was good but the ordering process was complicated and patrons had a lot of decisions to make.

The story was different for another restaurant that closed recently.  The Carvery, located directly across Gay Street from the firm, offered sandwiches and soups that were very good.  It seemed to do a thriving business and was always bustling when I was there.  But then it apparently experienced some kind of significant plumbing problem, posted a sign that it was temporarily closed — and never reopened.

We’ve heard that another restaurant will be opening at The Carvery’s former location, and I’d expect some other food-loving entrepreneur will eventually take a stab at opening up where Stack’d used to operate.  I wish them good luck, and hope they stay open long enough for me to visit.

 

The Random Restaurant Tour (XIV)

Yesterday Dr. Science and I were supposed to have lunch at a restaurant on the south side of town.  When noon rolled around, however, the rain was absolutely pouring down, so we needed a central destination to minimize the downpour effect.  Let’s see — he’s just south of the Statehouse, and I’m just north of the Statehouse.  Hey, how about the Statehouse?  You can’t get more central than that!

Fortunately, there is in fact a place to eat at Ohio’s seat of government.  It’s located in the “basement” of the Statehouse, reachable through the Third Street entrance.  You walk past the map room and the shouts of schoolkids on a field trip, turn right at the main hallway, and then look for the place where the staffers are heading, tucked away in a few rooms on one side of the hallway.

The restaurant is a breakfast and lunch spot called GRAZE.  As the name suggests, GRAZE is all about farms and pastures — specifically, the “farm to table” concept in which Ohio eggs, dairy products, and proteins are featured.  The menu includes breakfast items, sandwiches, soups, salads, wraps, and bowls, and the goal is for customers to obtain “a protein packed and nutritious lunch for less than $10.”  You start in the room with the kitchen area, place your order at the counter, watch the food preparers go to work, move down to the cashier’s station, and settle up on your order, and by the time you get your tray and water cup your freshly made food has appeared.  You then head into one of the adjoining rooms to find a table and eat your lunch.

I went for the lamb gyro bowl — without the romaine, tomato, and cucumber, of course — and it was really quite good, with moist, shredded lamb, tasty pickled onions, brown rice, lots of feta cheese, and tzatziki sauce.  It definitely hit the spot, and at $9.50, it also met the “under $10” test.  I gladly consumed it all.

As I sat relishing my meal, I thought idly about the name “GRAZE,” its clear bovine connotations, and its suitability for a restaurant name — but then I realized that horses also graze, and I obviously needed fuel for the afternoon’s race.  I concluded that GRAZE was a pretty good place to tie on the old feedbag.

The Random Restaurant Tour (XIII)

Some restaurant locations just seem star-crossed.  A new place opens up at the spot, seems to do well for a time, then closes, the building stands vacant for an extended period, and after a few years you’re trying to remember how many restaurants have actually operated in the space.  So it is with a building at the corner of Spring and High in downtown Columbus, which once was a Wendy’s, and at one point was a nice tapas-type place with a bar and outdoor seating.  Hey, has it been anything else?

Well, now the building houses Haveli Bistro, an Indian restaurant.  Hope springs eternal!

JV and I visited the HB yesterday for lunch.  The place was jammed with a lot of people who were angling for the buffet, and we had to wait briefly to be seated.  It seems that diners have two options — a lunch buffet, upstairs, or ordering from a very limited lunch menu, downstairs.  Because of the wait for the buffet, we chose the downstairs option, which allows you to choose from a non-vegetarian platter, a vegetarian platter, and a biryani platter.  The specific items on your plate depend upon what’s being served that day, as disclosed on a typed sheet at the front counter, and it doesn’t appear that you can choose your spice level.  (At least, we weren’t offered that option.)

JV and I went for the non-vegetarian platter, which turned out to be two chicken dishes, a chicken “lollipop,” rice, and two pieces of naan, with a dessert.  The food was served on a kind of cafeteria platter that reminded us of the Swanson frozen dinners of days gone by, except that the platter was plastic instead of foil.  (No “TV trays” in sight, however!)  I’m not sure of the specific names of chicken dishes, but they were good and served at a moderate spice level, and the chicken lollipop was tasty and not overly breaded.  I finished them all.  The dessert was a kind of vermicelli disk soaked in a sweet liquid.  I’m not a dessert guy so I tried a bite and decided I’d pass on the rest.

Lunch at Haveli Bistro isn’t really comparable to lunch at Indian Oven, with its full menu and terrific service, and my allegiance to IO as the best Indian restaurant in town, and one of the best Columbus restaurants, period, is unyielding.  Nevertheless, the Haveli Bistro is a nice option for people downtown who have a taste for some ethnic food.  Will the HB be able to exorcise the ghosts of restaurants past?  Stay tuned.