Early last summer while walking into a Lowe’s hardware store we saw fig trees for sale. Not being an expert on figs I assumed that being native to the Middle East they weren’t something for Ohio’s climate but upon further reading of their detailed tag that indeed the variety of Chicago Hardy was listed as fit for Ohio’s winters. We took home one tree and planted it, and it barely looked like it did any growing over the course of the last summer. Now I wasn’t expecting fruit anytime soon, but amazingly this summer after moving the tree to make room for our eventual wood fired pizza oven that we were digging the foundation of, the tree took off and really grew nicely and put out two figs. Amazingly they grew and ripened and the other day, at the end of a rough day we cut the two little figs in half and ate them. They were quite good, better of course having picked them feet from where we were eating, maybe not the best figs ever, but something I never expected to be eating in Columbus fresh from the tree.
Yesterday was the ‘official’ grand opening of the new stage at Columbus Commons, the park in Columbus on the former site of City Center Mall. The park is an amazing addition to downtown and the new stage makes it just that much better. To open up the new venue a free concert of the Columbus Jazz Orchestra and Michael McDonald. After some mild convincing my fiancee agreed to go see the yacht rock show on what was a perfect weather night in Columbus. One of the great features of these shows is the ability to pack a picnic, sit on your blanket on the lawn – meaning if its a show you didn’t really feel like seeing, its still a good time.
I was trying to figure out what to pack in the cooler when I stumbled on this post from a few years back by Mark Bittman on 101 Picnic Dishes to Make in 20 Minutes, the roast beef sandwich sounded appealing, so after a quick stop to Weiland’s made up some sandwiches with blue cheese, horseradish, some tennesse tomatoes that looked really nice and some lettuce from our garden. Grabbed some pasta salad and a bean salad that was already prepared, grabbed a blank and some drinks and we were off to downtown. We got lucky snagging a meter right by the state house and in no time we were spread out on the lawn enjoying the Jazz Orchestra and our dinner. The lawn was packed but not painfully so and it was quite the cross section of Columbus who came out for the show. All in all a very good time, can’t wait to pack up another picnic and get back to another show.
A couple weeks back when my fiancé was feeling under the weather and was making up some ramen (including the little packet – something I never quite developed the taste for) I decided I’d go a bit more for the flavor of Pho, but without having many ingredients or the time to make it for real, I came up with a really quick pho that was pretty good in a pinch. With the right ingredients this could easily have turned into a bit less faux pho without much more work. Really all I was doing was infusing stock (in this case chicken, but for pho bo, my preference you’d use beef stock). Into the chicken stock I put in some of the standard elements (the ones I had on hand) – cinnamon sticks, slices of fresh ginger, star anise, fish sauce and sugar and let that all simmer on the stove. I didn’t really have any of the garnishes aside from some cilantro and dropping in the ramen noodles and splashing on some hoisin sauce and siracha but in a quick pinch it filled in for pho.
So also on the pho front here in Columbus I’ve had a couple recent trips to Pho Asian noodle House & Grill (1288 W. Lane Ave., Columbus, OH 43221 – info on yelp) which is a mixture of mostly Chinese food (despite the name) and Vietnamese. The people who run it are super nice and despite the building being an old Taco Bell the place transcends its former self (I should mention that they still have the drive through and its operational – yes you can get Pho, good pho at that, through a drive up window). Anyway, its quick, pretty cheap and good. The roast duck noodle soup is awesome as is their standard pho and their pad thai (I guess they do have more than Chinese and Vietnamese) was good as well.
Buckeye Pho Asian Kitchen (761 Bethel Rd. Set E195, Columbus, OH 43235 in front of the Micro Center ) - seems to be a recent addition (not sure how old it is the place appears to be brand new – the interior is spotless and super bright) to the thankfully growing Vietnamese dining scene in Columbus I think I heard it was somewhat related (relatives or the like) to the owners of Mi Li Cafe a great spot for awesome Bahn Mi and while Buckeye Pho comes through with really good Bahn Mi (like Mi Li they make their own mayo and pate and it all comes on the super crispy baguette to seal the deal). The difference from Mi Li are pretty obvious starting just with the name, which is carried through on with a wall covered with buckeyes and an OSU color scheme. The other thing that sets Buckeye Pho apart is the sports bar appearance of the place. 3 huge TVs overlook a long bar in the middle of the place – but don’t let these throw you as it is decidedly not a sports bar and the food is awesome and the owners/staff are super nice. Their special pho was fantastic, including all the various types of beef they have (you can order specific versions with just what you want if your trying to avoid something, like say tripe which comes in the special version). So far it seemed like they have a nice reception, the night we were there it was packed but with quick service they were turning the tables over quickly so we barely had to wait to get seated.
Spent a few hours yesterday running some errands, including a few stops at thrift shops looking for a typewriter (long story for another time). In the course of entering/exiting and walking through a selection of Columbus’ thrift shops encountered a variety of individuals from cross sections of Columbus I don’t always see. For the most part nothing too interesting to report on and in general the shops were pretty nice and clean and had pretty decent stuff for sell (not just bric-a-brac despite the sign above from the Salvation Army store on South High St.). Two things that kind ofstuck in my head was how much crap (and I don’t mean crap to mean its junk – plenty of good pots, pans, glasses, clothes, electronics or whatever) our country must go through that we can donate this stuff in such volumes. Some of the stuff is clearly headed to new homes where it will have a good 2nd, 3rd or 4th life. Some of the electronics though are destined for doom (no chance in being sold) – one example: old Ameritch DSL modems that originally come free when you sign up for service. I don’t know maybe somebody breaks theirs and needs one but these things don’t seem like anyone will be coming to buy one. But actually some of the stuff really sells – VHS tapes? Actually yes – there sure seemed to be a lot of folks combing through the pretty expansive offerings that are out there – so if your looking to get into a nice collection it seems like just the time.
My over analytical view of the world after visiting all these shops: Partly sad to see all the extra junk we have put out there and how the exciting new electronic which once was the latest and greatest and was the center of our universe is sitting on a shelf with a grease pencil $1.99 on it, but partly happy seeing how affordable living in America is if you go pick up a electric hand mixer for $1.99 and another buck for the metal beaters and how we do reuse a lot of the stuff and second homes are found (there were even dumpster divers going through the rejected donations).
The other constant on the trip around thrift shops was seeing Columbus’ immigrant population out in force and then running into someone thinking I wanted to chat w/ them about the need for these people to ‘speak American’ (as a side note the person he was upset about was speaking English and the guy had just been nice about holding the door for the non-American speaking man, so not the worst person ever to be fair), but still the comment sickened me and I wish I had retorted with some witty comment about this ‘American’ language he was talking about or something about his ancestors – presumably non-English speaking bringing a copy of Rosetta Stone w/ them on the boat ride over to be so well prepared. But I didn’t sadly, and I say sadly as I am not sure these people get the fact that our country has never been such a purely English speaking nation as they think and that to thrive Columbus needs to be reaching out to immigrants and growing these populations.
January 7th in Ohio doesn’t usually bring with it 50 degree weather – but this year it did and that meant the bike path was full of bikers and walkers, the tennis courts even had people in shorts. We took advantage of it and headed off on a nice long walk with the dogs in the peak of the amazing weather. On the way back the urge for a coffee came upon as we neared the Caribou, but alas no wallets were to be found. Would there be two miracles today? Yes – just like the miraculous weather we were able to scrounge up $1.67, just 2 cents short of a small cup of coffee and with the kind aid of the staff I was coached into the right answer to the trivia (Caribou Coffee in pig latin, which is Ariboucay offeecay) which brought it down to $1.59 – enough to leave a tip even! So with a second cup to split up the cup and a dash of half and half we were out on their patio enjoying the amazing day with our coffees and dogs – a winter miracle I’d say.
Northstar is officially a Columbus institituion, having grown from a location in the Short North to having locations in Beechwald and Easton as well as opening Third & Hollywood in Grandview. Northstar does a great job of mixing genres, combining simple with upscale, quality with casual, and mixing healthy with not so much. One of those not so much items is the ham and cheese scone. Like all Northstar’s baked goods they sport a small sign showing what time they were made – although some of us would gladly eat a day old one if one made it so long. The ham and cheese is of course a classic combination that is done to perfection, with some of the cheese getting crusty around the edges and a nice ham that adds without being too hamey.
The sadness of all this is that I rarely get one of these scones because I always get the sweet potato turkey hash for breakfast when we go, meaning only if we splurge for some take out biscuits to eat later will I have one of these – and never in its fresh from the oven state.
A month or two ago while making some biscuits, I thought, hey why not toss in the ham and cheese to these? Not having ham and cheese I had to wait awhile until I remembered the whole affair again at the grocerry store.
Problems emerged immediately though, what kind of ham? what kind of cheese? I thought I’d like to use Virginia ham (to some country ham), a salty, cured ham, which could be added in moderation to deliver texture and intense flavor, but I was foiled when the store doesn’t sell it. (They did have deli ham called Virginia ham, but from my guess it wasn’t what I was thinking of). Instead I settled on a package of pre-diced prociutto (we were at Kroger, so our options were a bit limited in this department – although I should add this was at the new Clintonville Kroger, which is really nice – just not a gourmet destination I guess). For cheese grabbed some gruyere and emmenthal, being unable to decide, so went with the classic fondue duo.
To make the biscuits I made up a batch of biscuits inspired by Sam Sifton’s recipe a while back in the NY Times, been really happy with his recipe, don’t follow it exactly as I am going from memory, but basically I made a half recipe in the food processor, adding the cheese. Into a bowl to add the milk and then in the proscuttio.
I try to minimally handle biscuits and to that end I don’t cut them out with a biscuit cutter, instead cutting them with a knife into squares (in this case 4 big biscuits). The proscuitio and cheese biscuits turned out amazing, I think next time I will leave in some bigger chunks of cheese to get some pockets of cheese (I’ve since done this and can attest it is a good idea), but the little squares of proscuttio were delicious. The recipe is quick enough to make on a work morning if your not a dash out the door person and delicious enough to make for a special sunday brunch.
Food carts. They seem to be all the rage these days with taco trucks taking over the scene in Columbus and with all kinds of crazy carts getting attention in the ‘hipper’ cities. Despite that Columbus still had not yet got in on the crazier concepts or some really upscale food in a cart. That is starting to change. Not that its upscale, but the food at Foodie cart is pretty high quality and is pushing the Columbus food cart envelope.
So what is Foodie cart? Well the name sure doesn’t give it away, but its Japanese crepes. What you say again? well don’t fear that doesn’t mean its scary, actually it just means anything goes and goes it does. Jerk beef? Lemon pork belly? yes and yes and many more (both savory and sweet). Essentially a Japanese crepe is a thin, slightly crispy, crepe, which can be filled with essentially anything. Foodie cart can be found setting up shop around town and tweeting their location seems like a great idea. When I saw they were downtown I just had to check it out and was quite impressed. They face the slight problem of having only one setup for making crepes but its not a long wait. It was worth it and since my first trip they seemed to have improved their work flow getting you a crepe without much wait even with a small line. So find where they are and go grab a crepe. For more on them and some photos see this post on alt.eats.columbus
Barrio gets the benefit of the doubt from me on many fronts. One being that they opened up shop in what is not a thriving part of downtown, on the previously fairly desolate stretch of High Street between Nationwide and Broad (the Elevator Brewery is of course there but stood quite alone). The other reasons it gets the benefit of the doubt is that its a tapas restaurant, or at least a fusion of Latin / South American and Spanish tapas. That said and also saying I would happily go back I think without a special (2 for 1 tapas on Tuesdays for example) it might be a bit overpriced for what it is. On one such 2 for 1 Tapas where the lower priced tapas are free (so really you kind of give away your discount if you do as we did and add some of the nice 5 dollar ones, like olives etc, but I like olives – these olives actually weren’t anything too special I thought, but still good). We did have a nice array of things, the bacon wrapped dates w/ cabrales was very good, the crab and almond empanada was good not great and sources tell me that it was much better in the past (I don’t know if they regularly change the items, but many of the items had been scaled back since they first opened). The steak with cabrales and mashed sweet potatoes was good, again not phenomenal, the ‘caramelized’ provolone w/ grilled bread was quite disappointing, I am not sure what I was thinking ordering it, but maybe I wanted the bread since they didn’t have any with the meal, but when only two tiny pieces of bread were put w/ tortilla chips for that dish I figured maybe they were running out and were rationing it? I’ll never know as I didn’t ask them about bread. Either way bread would have been good w/ our meat and cheese of serrano ham and manchego w/ some almonds, fig and chickpeas which were very good (I know hard to screw up but still good). One last thing was the sangria that I remembered being nice in the pasted, but tasted watery and lacked a bit in flavor. So while that probably sounds like quite a disappointing review (I guess it is, but I really like the idea of the place) I will still be going back on discount nights as with the windows open wide (they have great windows that completely open), the fact it was a closed Wendy’s before they gutted it (you’d never guess) and put in some real nice features including those great wall sized windows, a great wooden bar and a really spectacular full tree table (shaped like the tree, with nice grain etc.). it still will get me. Barcelona definitely is still doing better food I think, having just had their tapas menu (I am thrilled Barcelona has become more Spanish over the years) which was quite good. Oh well, hopefully Barrio can improve and the area will grow with it.
I heard about this show (and identically named campaign of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution) on ABC a long time back and kind of forgot about it. Recently I heard it already aired, but thanks to the magic of Hulu I was able to watch all six episodes of the show. I gotta say I enjoyed the show that follows Jamie Oliver’s attempt to reform food and eating in Huntington, WV which had been named the most unhealthy city in the United States (but in reality is not real different from anywhere else in the US). While the show has some gimmicky story arcs (a feud w/ a local DJ who he gets to come around, a feud w/ the school chef who comes around etc.) the overall theme is too important for me to get gummed up in such criticism. The show does show the horror that is the US school lunch program, that pushes frozen, highly processed, unhealthy food. His quest is improve school foods and teach people to cook is an impressive mission that I think is gaining traction in a lot of places. (For example Granville schools here in central Ohio see Tater Tots? I Think Not).
What stood out to me as well as improving the food to using fresh food, was the number of students who didn’t know anything about food and made me think teaching cooking, eating and understanding where food comes from need to be parts of the curriculum, lunch shouldn’t be a break.
Anyway, its worth checking out while it’s still on Hulu.
It could be just a coincidence, but I doubt it. Somehow Arnold, that is Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor of California can control the weather in Columbus. This weekend is the annual Arnold Sports Festival here in Columbus, OH. It began as a body building event but has grown into a huge fitness event that while still drawing body builders (makes for a strange crowd on the streets) but also more obscure things like table tennis. The most remarkable part of the event is that it happens in the beginning of March and if I recall last year the weather was amazing (I doubt the people coming to Columbus from warm climates realize this of course), this year, it has not been very nice, until today when it feels like its 70 (it’s really 40 something, but oh so sunny and tomorrow is almost 50!). So I say California is in good hands, your not going to fall into the ocean while he’s on the watch.
Anyway, good weekend for Columbus, the festival is a huge draw and it’s also a gallery hop weekend in the Short North, meaning two very different crowds will be out, with some cross over around the cap.