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.

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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.

The Random Restaurant Tour (XII)

 

New buildings are going up all over downtown Columbus, and I’ve been hoping that we’ll be getting some new restaurants along with the new office and residential space. So when I saw that The Goat was open for business — even though the building it occupies is still seriously under construction — the Jersey Girl, the Origamist, and I decided to stroll down South High Street and pay it a visit.

Although the space surrounding the restaurant is a beehive of construction workers, scaffolding, and other equipment, the interior space at The Goat is finished and very pleasant, with high ceilings, an open, airy feeling, and lots of room between the tables and chairs. It’s reminiscent of a New York or LA bistro. The only downside we noted is that there were TVs everywhere, with the sound on, which was distracting while we were trying to carry on a conversation. I think there are too many TVs in America, period, but unless a restaurant intends to be a sports fan hangout — and the menu at The Goat doesn’t suggest that is the business model — it’s got to limit the idiot boxes to the immediate bar area. If I were running The Goat, I’d follow that approach and ditch a lot of the TVs. As it is, the place seems to be neither fish nor fowl.

As for the food, the menu is limited, but interesting.  I got the buffalo chicken wrap, which came with some very tasty fries.  The chicken was very tender and flavorful, and the wrap made for a substantial meal.  The only downside was that the wrap was chock full of iceberg lettuce, even though there was no mention of lettuce in the description of the dish on the menu.  This is another pet peeve of mine — a menu should disclose all ingredients in a dish, and diners should be entitled to rely on finding only what is listed when their order comes.  I hate iceberg lettuce, so I used the fork to shovel as much of it as possible out of the wrap.  Without the lettuce, the wrap was very good.  The Jersey Girl raved about her soup, and the Origamist liked her wrap, too.

I’ll go back to The Goat, which is a pretty nice setting for lunch, but I’d like it even better with fewer TVs and more information on the menu.

The Random Restaurant Tour (XI)

In Columbus, at least, Greek restauranteurs must be an emotional bunch who wear the core elements of their personalities on their shirt sleeves. In the footprint of our fair city, we’ve got dining establishments identified with a Mad Greek, a Crazy Greek, a Simple Greek, and even a Yappy Greek.

Yesterday, though, we were in a good mood at lunchtime, so we ventured to The Happy Greek. It’s a Short North staple that’s been there for decades — which makes it all the more bizarre that I’ve never been inside its doors. But there’s a first time for everything.

The Happy Greek has all the trappings that you’ve come to expect in a Greek restaurant, including wall paintings of happy dancing Greeks and a bar fashioned to look like the Acropolis. (Surprisingly, the proprietor wasn’t outfitted like Socrates.) And, of course, a menu that features lots of salads and other traditional Greek fare.

My theory on a new restaurant is that you first try one of the basics from their menu, and if that is good you then branch out to other options on subsequent visits. Since I don’t eat salad, Greek or otherwise, I went for the lamb pita sandwich with onions, tzatziki sauce, and fries. The sandwich was big, with lots of succulent lamb and fresh pita bread, enjoyably messy to eat with your hands, and very tasty. The fries were a little on the salty side for my taste, but the seasoning did go well when I started to use the fries to mop up stray pools of the tzatziki sauce, which was so good I could have imbibed it by the tumbler. I’ll definitely come back.

And I should add that the people inside were very friendly, too. With a name like The Happy Greek, they’re pretty much required to be, I guess.

The Random Restaurant Tour (X)

Yesterday Dr. Science and I visited Andes Bar & Grill, one of the very newest restaurants in downtown Columbus. It’s located on Fourth Street, next to the YWCA, in a spot previously occupied by Hae-Paul’s Korean-American eatery.

Andes offers home-cooked meals of Bolivian comfort food.  At our waitress’ suggestion, Dr. Science and I both went for the chicken and rice plate, and we also split some empanadas.  The chicken was a good-sized leg and thigh that had been slow-cooked.  It was awesomely juicy and tender, making it easy to use knife and fork to extricate every last ounce of succulent meat off the bone.  The chicken was served in a kind of rich gravy, and I gladly mixed the meat and gravy with the rice, added a few dashes from a bottle of Cholula hot sauce on the table, and went at it.  The empanadas also were quite good, crisp and crunchy on the outside and moist and hot on the inside.  Dr. Science, recalling his days handling test tubes and Bunsen burners, deftly used his empanada as a kind of fence to allow his fork to retrieve every last grain of rice.

The chicken was served at a mild spice level, and after we finished our food the friendly proprietor came by to ask how we liked the food and to clear our plates.  When he saw that we had both cleaned our plates and left only a few well-picked bones behind, he beamed.  He also happens to be the cook, and we asked about the available options if you’re looking for a little additional kick with your meal.  He said that traditionally Bolivian food is served at a very mild spice level, and people can then tailor the heat of their dish to their specific taste by adding sauces that are served separately.  He said that Andes has two homemade sauces that you can use for that purpose, one that is at a moderate spice level and one that goes in, all guns blazing.

The chance to eat that home-cooked food with a fiery sauce will definitely cause me to spring on the back of my llama and head back to the Andes.