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Startups and Serendipity (Pt. 2): Igloo Letterpress

Igloo Letterpress' special "Blogger Night" highlighted the creative
capabilities of this Worthington-based printing business to attendees.
For Part 1 of this post, please click on this link.

Part 1 of my post briefly touched on our dabblings in Columbus-area crowdfunding, and our experience with The Commissary, a food-focused incubator that we happily supported during their efforts to get off the ground.

Part 2 touches on another previously blogged-about businesss with an ongoing crowdfunding campaign to help it move to a bigger location, with just a little hint of serendipity thrown in to boot.

My previous post on Worthington's Igloo Letterpress, a true favorite of both myself and my spouse, came by happenstance on the day before their announcement that they were taking over a larger space just a half-block up from their current location. Since that day, Igloo has also decided to utilize the crowdfunding option to help fund the move, launching a Kickstarter campaign to not only assist in the actual moving process, but also to optimize their increased operating space.

My spouse and I have taken advantage of some of Igloo's open-to-the-public events in the past, so were understandably thrilled when Igloo Invited us to attend last week's Bloggers Night at their current work space on West New England Avenue to help get the word out to folks.

You don't have to be a blogger to appreciate the Igloo's tools of
its trade, nor realize how their limited work space presents
unique challenges to both employees and customers during
an evening of numerous interactive experiences.
I had written in my previous blog post that Igloo's current work space as having a "certain chaotic organization that you better appreciate as you watch the employees perform their duties." This came out in more stark relief during this night of numerous letterpress-related activities and demonstrations. Viewing the dozen-or-so invited guests and gathered staff in combination with Igloo's equipment and other tools of the trade from afar, I got a picture of the machinations that might have to take place trying to combine production work and a scheduled class at the same time.

This vision was elaborated upon in a delightful conversation I had with Igloo's Studio Director Beth Dekker. She explained that their letterpress' business, community interaction and education goals come into conflict more frequently than desired due to this lack of space. She added that that utilizing certain pieces of equipment for one purpose by default shuts down use of that machine for other uses; there had been times when Igloo's capacity is maxed out to the point where potential production jobs and/or chances for community interaction events simply have to be refused.

This event highlighted one of Igloo's most engaging aspects: giving the public an opportunity to exercise their creative side in a truly hands-on manner. For the invited this night, these activities ranged from the very simple (picking out the font type to print our note cards) to the kinesthetic (operating the actual machine to print said cards), and was not restricted to a single activity (along with the note cards, we walked away with a mini hand-bound notebook and a set of printed cardboard coasters.)

The long hand note is always preferable, especially if you're
using Igloo's whimsical printed creations.
Simply viewing Igloo's finished products allows you to appreciate the creativity and quality of work coming from this business, from the uniquely witty and whimsical designs of their greeting cards, to the unique poster-sized materials (a Worthington street map produced from a restored wood print block dating back between 1950 to 1960) and everything in-between. The Snow House, their current gift shop, is a favorite place of my spouse and I to drop by, especially when the Worthington Farmers Market is in their outdoor season.

Overall, this night was incredibly enjoyable, from all the various activities to the interactions with Igloo staff and the opportunity to meet many fellow bloggers who I have discovered during my Internet travels in person for the first time ever (I most certainly hope this is not the last time either.)

Moreover, I would like to re-emphasize the little gem that the Columbus area has in Igloo Letterpress. As you grow up, you get to learn that life isn't terribly fair at times: a combination of unfortunate circumstances and/or just sheer dumb luck has derailed numerous high-quality and truly worthy endeavors throughout the years. Often times, little can be done by the customers or beneficiaries of those endeavors when they cease their operations.

Igloo Letterpress owner Allison Chapman demonstrates the
capabilities of a Heidelberg printing press machine. Special movers
will have to be hired to transport the equipment to its new digs.
Sometimes, the opposite happens: a little serendipity allows a quality venture to grow. Dekker related to me a story that night about how Igloo Letterpress' owner Allison Chapman was struggling to balance the business and production aspects of her fledgling business. Meanwhile, Dekker's employment had just ended, and she was simply trying to land somewhere where her skills could prove useful. Despite having no real letterpress experience, Dekker sent an inquiry e-mail to Chapman touting her skills.

During a particularly rough stretch, and in realization that she truly needed help to handle the business side of her venture, Chapman decided to scope her e-mail (a task which she increasingly had less and less time for) for a possible solution.

Guess whose e-mail was listed first?

Serendipity is a good thing. In Igloo's case, it helped bring Chapman and her letterpress equipment to the Columbus area in the first place, helped in matching up Dekker and Chapman, and now has given them an opportunity to reach their optimal potential just a mere half-block away from their current location. Perhaps the serendipitous cherry on top of this fun evening was Chapman returning from a city of Worthington meeting with approval for Igloo's new storefront.

Igloo's current Kickstarter campaign not only helps out with the moving process, but would allow the addition of extra printing press and related studio that would allow Igloo to teach classes and host public projects. The space would also be available for private rental as well. This additional space would allow Igloo to host these services without adversely affecting their mainline production, as is the case currently. In addition, the gift shop would be centrally located with the business, with the current Snow House Gift Shop going back onto the residential market.

For me and my spouse, knowing that we can help out Igloo Letterpress reach their ultimate potential through their current Kickstarter campaign is a little serendipity for us in its own right.

If you would like to help out Igloo Letterpress with its move, please check out their Kickstarter Campaign page. Numerous unique rewards are available for those willing to contribute to the cause. The campaign runs until Friday, April 10, at 6 PM EDT.

Igloo Letterpress/Snow House Gift Shop
39 West New England Ave
Worthington, OH 43085
(614) 787-5528
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Startups and Serendipity (Pt. 1): The Commissary

Ever since I've moved to Columbus, I've become more intimately aware of and participated more in various crowdfunding efforts. These campaigns in general have ranged from the very practical (needed repairs on the food truck for local Jewish-inspired cuisine purveyor Challah!) to the fanciful (the tweak-your-nose-at-the-crowdfunding-concept Potato Salad campaign of Zack Danger Brown), from the getting your feet wet (the thriving Land Grant Brewing began as a Kickstarter effort under the Oval Brewing banner) to the getting your feet back under you (the Go Fund Me efforts related to the Ohio Deli and Union Street fires in Columbus and Athens, respectively.)

Two recent efforts that both the spouse and I have been quite enthused about involve both a startup and an expansion; this post covers the former.

The Commissary (which I wrote about in this previous post) founded by Kate Djupe, a vehicle that would assist local food-oriented individuals and businesses in starting up, enhancing, producing or experimenting with their product lines or services. The visibility of this campaign was by far less sexy in comparison with the high-flung lark of the previously mentioned potato salad effort, but the eventual groundswell of support pushed Djupe's vision to full funding.

Since its grand opening party in November of 2014, The Commissary has settled into its mission quite well, offering series of classes, pop-up dinners, community events, entrepreneurial and other informational meetings available to all interested parties, coupled with fully equipped kitchens and facilities to fit a variety of needs.

The murals that were still in progress at the time of the grand opening
party were more or less completed by the time of their Fat Tuesday
Po' Boy Party with Chef Lara Yazvac Pipia
The events we have been able to partake in since its opening have proven to be fun and tasty affairs. Chef Lara Yazvac Pipia, owner of Two-Top Consulting and participant in the opening day party Knife Fight (essentially, a variation of cooking competitions like the Iron Chef), provided some yummy goodness to folks on Fat Tuesday in The Commissary's Po' Boy Party pop-up dinner event. Diners were treated to their choice of an artichoke or oyster po' boy sandwich with all the trimmings (red beans and rice, a corn maque choux and bread pudding.) The event was BYOB, so many brought along some adult libations to enjoy with their eats.

Since it was our first time back since the opening day party, we took the chance to see what had been finished up since that visit (the wall murals for the food truck bay) and new developments only hinted at then (the special "Lab" where coffee-roasters and beer-brewers can tinker around with recipes or equipment.)

Dumplings? Why, yes please, especially if it's from Helen.
Shortly afterward, I got the pleasure of participating in a Dumpling Making Class, hosted by Helen Jiao of Worthington's Helen's Asian Kitchen. Helen was an engaging instructor and well-skilled in this fine art, pumping out variations of this creation with lightning speed (plus a few more not hinted at in the instruction sheets) during our couple hours in the kitchen. Many people's first efforts didn't go quite so well, but Helen was there to help and assist we students with a smile, an encouraging word and helpful hints.

Helen showed class participants that the seemingly simple dumpling
is a lot more versatile than one might give it credit for
I had filled up with a quick breakfast before the class, but it probably wasn't necessary considering the sheer number of dumpling variations that were either boiled up or fried from both Helen and her willing students. I definitely left there quite happy, knowing that I had a nice little culinary skill to use in the future, had a full tummy full of delicious dumplings, and had a delightful experience with Helen, courtesy of The Commissary.

For a list of upcoming classes, dinners and other events at The Commissary, please check out this link or check out their web-links below.

The Commissary
1400 Dublin Rd (Marble Cliff)
Columbus, OH 43215
E-Mail: feedback@thecommissarycolumbus.com
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Caffeinated Kansas: Black Dog Coffeehouse (Lenexa); Ad Astra Coffee and Books (Salina)

Searching for promising local coffee purveyors in previously unvisited parts of the country has been one of my favorite pastimes since my spouse and I got together. Our Kansas visit list included a coffeehouse with a toast option as well as a place to hang out and find a book.

Black Dog Coffeehouse: Despite numerous owners over a decade-plus of existence, Black Dog has maintained both a culture and neighborhood focus that has earned it a loyal following in the region since its opening in 2003. On our visit, we were able to sample some of the changes that the Matsch Family, the business' latest owners, have brought to Black Dog much to our delight.

One such change the new owners put in was based on their research of so-called third-wave coffee shops around the country; as a result, Black Dog discontinued the self-service coffee dispensers in favor of coffee served by manual brewing and upgraded drip coffee equipment.

Other changes reveal how Black Dog has truly become a (Matsch) family affair: their coffee is sourced through area-roaster, Messenger Coffee, a company partly owned by John Matsch. Messenger focuses on sourcing the best coffees while paying farmers higher-than-Fair Trade pricing, according to their company website. As expected, our coffee drinks were quite good, matching some of the best we've had in the Columbus area.

Another change that is definitely a Matsch touch involves Black Dog's toast bar. John's brother Chris had returned to the area from a stint in California with the intent of opening up a bakery. Inspired by the growing toast movement on the west coast as well as the excellent products of bakeries like San Francisco's Mission-district based Tartine, the Matsch family created Ibis Bakery next door.

Black Dog features several loaves of Ibis' bread offerings every day in their toast bar. As opposed to Columbus' Dan The Baker's Toast Bar, this is more of a hearty breakfast (as toast goes, anyway) versus a sampling experience. Black Dog offers thick slices, with each variety of bread matched up with a particular spread. While the Rosemary Olive Oil toast slice, with a combo of butter, pesto and cream cheese was quite tasty, it paled in comparison to the Cranberry Walnut with butter, almond butter, honey and sea salt.

Black Dog Coffeehouse's main menu board and interior space.
Their thick-cut toast uses bread from Ibis Bakery next door. 
According to Ibis' baker Matt Matsch, the slow-rise process used in their breads allows those with celiac and gluten issues to consume their products, Related to this, Black Dog also offers a so-called "Gluten Free Tower" filled with various pastries. Special lunch-oriented items also are offered after 11 AM.

One thing that has not changed is the the coffeehouse's community focus, with live music, game nights and a weekly community farmer's market as regularly scheduled events. The fairly expansive interior space is well suited to handle a decently-sized crowd, and is nattily attired to allow for the now much-observed tradition of hanging out at the coffee shop for an hour or two. Based on our experience, you can definitely do a lot worse than end up at Black Dog for that time.

Black Dog Coffeehouse
12815 W 87th St Pkwy
Lenexa, KS 66215
(913) 495-5515
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Black Dog Coffeehouse on Urbanspoon

Ad Astra Coffee and Books: At a population of around 47,000, Salina ranks up there in size with Newark, Ohio in Licking County. But unlike Newark, which has sported local coffee shops from the folks at One Line/River Road since the early 2000s, it took Salina until November of 2011 to get a downtown shop to call its own in the form of Ad Astra.

With the opening date so close to the winter months, and being in a town that was more or less unfamiliar with the coffeehouse concept, Ad Astra struggled in its first few months. A successful Kickstarter campaign launched in early 2012 gave the fledgling business the needed funds to upgrade various aspects of its business as well as getting the word out that they actually existed. The funds apparently were spent pretty wisely, as it allowed my spouse and I some extra caffeination to survive the relatively numbing stretch of I-70 through western Kansas to the Colorado border.

Along with coffee, Ad Astra offers an appealing mix of locally-made
products and artwork, kitschy decor, a mix of new and used
books for sale, and a place for locals to to gather for
various community events within its brick-lined interior.
The pairing of coffee shop and book store is pretty ubiquitous these days, especially with the proliferation of big box retailer Barnes and Noble and coffee giant Starbucks. However, there's just something truly appealing about this combo at the local level, as we have experienced at places like Malaprop's Bookstore and Cafe in Asheville, NC, Indeed, there's plenty of space to hangout within Ad Astra's appealing interior.

Ad Astra is operated as a worker cooperative, similar to Pattycake Bakery in Columbus and The Cheese Board in Berkeley, CA. My spouse asked the barista about what he would recommend on ice and came through with a rather delicious dirty chai with a shot of espresso. I went with a more conventional iced latte, which turned out to be a notch up from the big-chain versions like Starbucks and similar.

Other than the regular community events, Ad Astra's operations help out local businesses, using the roasted coffee beans of Blacksmith Coffee out of nearby Little Sweden-based town of Lindsborg.

While a Starbucks might be more conveniently located for I-70 travelers going through Salina, those looking for something a little more should take a little detour "to the stars" (the literal translation of Ad Astra from Latin) for a nicely rewarding experience.

Ad Astra Coffee and Books
141 N Santa Fe
Salina, KS 67401
(785) 833-2235
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Ad Astra Books and Coffee House on Urbanspoon

Queuing for 'Cue: Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que (Olathe, KS)

Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que new moniker now acknowledges
this eatery's current Kansas City-area focus
The oft- and perhaps overused phrase starting with "When in Rome..." applies to numerous destinations around this world. From a culinary standpoint, you can't visit New York for the first time and not have a bagel or a slice of New York style pizza. When in San Francisco, a slice of sourdough or freshly prepared Dungeness Crab would seem to be in order.

In Kansas City, it's all about the barbecue.

With that said, on a drive-through visit like my spouse and I made on the way to and back from the Rocky Mountains on this trip, the dilemma ensues: how the hell do you choose just one place?

After quite a bit of research, we decided that since the quantity of quality barbecue eateries wouldn't be an issue, proximity would be the final determiner.  Since we had stopped for the night on the southwest side of the metro, we ended up at Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que in Olathe.

Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que has its roots in Oklahoma: the first restaurant, originally named Oklahoma Joe's, was opened up in Stillwater, OK in 1996, with a location in Kansas City opening up later that year in a former gas station. When one of the original partners relocated to Texas, the lack of an owner/operator for the original Oklahoma-area restaurant caused that location to close. However, the Kansas City branch continued operations, expanding to Leawood and Olathe over the years and building up accolades in the form of "Best Of" nominations.

The recently-announced change to the new moniker was an acknowledgment of this eatery's now de facto Kansas City orientation as well as a way to distinguish it from the newer Oklahoma Joe's eateries; these were opened when the previously referenced business partner moved back to the state of Oklahoma to open up two new Oklahoma Joe's restaurants in recent years.

Got that? Good - it's time to discuss the food.

Top photo: Even on an early weekday, Joe's was bustling.
Bottom row: Beer from local brewer Boulevard on tap; Zagat-rating
plaques, and a peek at some of Joe's meat-based offerings
Even on this early weekend/later-in-the-evening visit like we made, the place was rather bustling, with a fairly long queue in place upon our arrival. However, the line moved pretty quickly, giving us time to not only look over their menu, but glance through around the interior. While this space, located in a major retail-oriented area along Strang Line Road, may not have the unique novelty of its original gas station location, the interior is appealing nonetheless and plenty roomy. Along with barbecue- and eatery- related media neatly arranged around the wood-paneled walls, big rolls of paper towels were sighted on all tables (a promising sight indeed.)

Alas, the Kansas City-area regional specialty burnt ends were only available on the weekends here, but the other barbecue selections we opted for on this day (brisket, pulled pork, and the ribs) ended up to be truly delicious. Perhaps the standout of array of proteins on this day were the ribs - nicely tender, visually appealing and delightful but not overpowering hint of smoke on each bite.

Clockwise from top left: Spicy Slaw and BBQ Beans sides; closeup
of a rather delicious rib; brisket slathered with some of Joe's
spicy BBQ sauce; pulled pork with some house pickles.
The sides were solid as well, with an special mention for the BBQ Beans, laden with nice-sized cubes of bacon. Texas Toast also comes with a standard dinner order, along with a regular slice of white bread. In addition, we found the sauces, produced by local sauce maker Cowtown, to be top-notch: while our preference is for spicy, we found both their spicy "Night of the Living Bar-b-q" and original sauce equally enjoyable. Joe's offers these sauces (as well as other branded merchandise) at their restaurant.

Along with the usual collection of pop and macro beer, several tap handles of excellent local brewer Boulevard Beer are available for diners: we ended up enjoying a couple of pints of their Irish Ale (it was St. Patrick's Day, after all) and their Pale Ale with what turned out to be an incredibly delicious experience all around.

If you're interested in more extensive barbecue-related shopping, you can walk across the parking lot to the Kansas City BBQ Store, which was originally co-located at Joe's Bar-B-Que location. A re-location of the store to its new digs proved to be beneficial for both parties in relation to giving each more space to operate. Along with a selection of barbecue-oriented equipment, a fairly extensive inventory of sauces and rubs are available for purchase. Many of these products have a presence on the sampling shelf - customers can come in to sample the various products before purchase (we ended up buying some regional-area products ourselves after some browsing.)

Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que
11950 S Strang Line Rd
Olathe, KS 66062
(913) 782-6858
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Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon

Gringas en Gahanna: Los Guachos

The front of Gahanna's edition of Los Guachos
I was cruising the northeast side of the metro after a good solid bike workout looking for a combination of two things: something that would kill some time before I had to pick up my spouse and some unfussy replenishment for dinner. I initially focused on the Easton area: perhaps a burger at Flip Side would sate my cravings, or perhaps sampling a grilled cheese at the newly opened Melt in the Easton Gateway area.

Then I remembered Gahanna wasn't too far away. Gahanna's restaurant scene has been growing by leaps and bounds with places like El Arepazo, The Barn at Rocky Creek, Superchef's and 101 Beer Kitchen recently or due to setup shop in town. I did a little quick research on my smartphone to see what I could find and uncovered a surprise.

Los Guachos? In Gahanna? Perhaps it's because I live a lot closer to their original brick-and-mortar location on Godown Road in Northwest Columbus that I was not aware of this lovely fact. But now that I knew this, my destination was set.

Los Guachos' Gahanna sports a brighter and seemingly
larger space than its Godown Road cousin, but the
decor and food remain the same.
Opened in September of 2013 in a strip mall off Morse Road just outside I-270, this second brick-and-mortar for one of Columbus' most well-known Mexican eateries basically brings the decor and style of their Godown location into what seems to be a slightly bigger and brighter space. Not surprisingly, televisions broadcasting Spanish-language channel programming (in this case, a Liga MX  soccer game) were available for patrons to watch. And yes, all those creations that have made Los Guachos a favorite of many are here for the ordering as well.

All the items typical of almost all taquerias (the pickled vegetables and array of salsas/sauces) and unique to Los Guachos (their unique red onion/habanero/soy sauce blend) are also here for diners. Last year's Columbus Food Adventures Taco Truck Tour brought my first exposure to the latter combination, something my spouse and I wouldn't think would work but does so brilliantly (in fact, we have often composed our own version for garnishing many of our home-cooked Mexican-style meals.)

Los Guachos' meal garnishments, including their unique blend of
sliced habanero peppers, red onions and soy sauce, were heavenly
on my order of gringas, volcanes and juanas.
Their famous Gringa, accompanied by their delicious al pastor de trompo, melted cheese, pineapple, onions and cilantro on a crispy grilled flour tortilla was a must, but I wanted to do some venturing on items I hadn't had the chance to try yet. The Volcanes essentially was a mini-quesadilla of sorts, while their Juana is something of an open-faced double-tortilla. The proteins that accompanied these creations (the suadero (beef brisket) and lengua (beef tongue) were well prepared; the latter was one of the better versions I've experienced.

In a way, this experience here pretty much cements the thoughts that crossed my mind when I first bit into that Gringa from Los Guachos' anchor taco truck in the Hilltop area of Columbus. Los Guachos' brick and mortar locations produce really good versions of their various offerings. But there is something about their mobile setup that kicks their creations to a higher level.

By all means, drop by Los Guachos' locations in Gahanna and Northwest Columbus and visit them often. But if you do make their brick-and-mortar locations your primary destinations, by all means supplement these visits with an occasional visit to Sullivant Avenue and their original taco truck (more currently closer to a taco rig.). Order some of your Los Guachos favorites from there; if you're lucky like my spouse and I, you'll reach that brief nirvana of mind-blown status.

Los Guachos
1376 Cherry Bottom Road
Gahanna, OH 43230
(614) 471-4717
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Other locations:
5221 Godown Road (Northwest)
Columbus, OH 43235
(614) 538-0211

3990 Sullivant Avenue (Hilltop)
Columbus, OH 43228
(614) 493-1874

Los Gauchos Taqueria on Urbanspoon

Takeout Pie of the Month: Adriatico's

Pizza is one of those things that is hard to do badly. Sure, there are plenty of mediocre pizzas, but even those versions matched with solid liquid refreshment under the right circumstances (a birthday party, a hard day of moving, etc.) can sate hungry souls quite satisfactorily.

There's also something about pizzas that are quite appealing: leftovers, and more specifically cold pizza. I had personally been of the reheat-the-pizza camp all my life until my spouse had mentioned to me that cold pizza for breakfast was something she quite enjoyed. Despite her testimony, I remained a skeptic until we stopped by a pizza place in Klamath Falls, Oregon during one of our first big road trips together for dinner. The pizza fresh out of the oven here definitely fell into the mediocre category. However, a stint in the hotel fridge had transformed the remaining slices into a fairly satisfying breakfast the next morning. Since then, I've enjoyed many a leftover slice cold from the fridge.

One of the things we still have not done enough of since I've moved here is explore the pizzas of the Columbus metro. I've proposed to my spouse a pizza of the month idea to help correct this deficiency, and she seems to have gone along with the idea. It seems like with enough time, we ought to get through all of them eventually, right?

First off: a pizza that has been a favorite of my spouse's since she was a student at Ohio State University - Adriatico's.

Location: Adriatico's resides in the South Campus area of Columbus), providing its pies and other wares to students and other pizza lovers alike since 1986 (the original location of Adriatico's can be found next to the University of Cincinnati campus.)  My spouse has had the pleasure of numerous lunches consisting of their wares; however, I was only introduced to their pizza fairly recently.

Dining Experience: Most people get Adriatico's pizzas to go or for delivery, which isn't surprising as they are catering to the student and faculty population of nearby OSU. Unlike many other takeout places, you actually can dine in here at Adriatico's, but don't expect a lot of room, as the (unfortunately) blurry pic below shows. During the warmer months, a few umbrella-decked patio tables are available on the sidewalk in front of the building to provide more seating.

You can dine at Adriatico's, if you don't mind being
really close to your neighbors.
If you are not jonesing for pizza on your visit, Adriatico's also offers a line of subs, salads and calzones to prospective diners.

From the Takeout Box:  For me, Sicilian style pizzas were never quite anything I stumbled upon while I lived in the Bay Area, but it was available in a few select locations. Two such purveyors reside in the North Beach neighborhood: the long-standing Golden Boy Pizza as well as nationally renowned Tony's Pizza Napoletana, which has recently added this style to their menu. Due to this lack of experience with the style, and my spouse's familiarity with it, this what we've stuck with for takeout.

Adriatico's Sicilian-style pizza is a greasy but fulfilling creation,
bracketed with a quite satisfying buttery crust
The first thing I noticed about the pizza was, not surprisingly, its thick crust and its nicely golden-brown color. A glorious ring of browned (but not burnt) ringed the main topping area and had cascaded on top or just over the crust. This appetizing look was confirmed by my first bit of this crust, with a uniquely buttery taste and its nice combination of crunch and chew.

Another bonus is the slightly spicy sauce: both my spouse and I are not fans of the sweeter sauces, and Adriatico's fits the bill here.

My spouse jokes that Adriatico's pizza is a diet-killer, and she really wasn't kidding. Adriatico's tends to produce a greasier pizza than most, and this in combination with the thicker crust and non-skimpy amounts of toppings leads to a satisfyingly full belly after only a few pieces.

Cold Pizza Worthiness: due to the greasy nature of the pizza, the bottom crust had obtained a bit of a soggy texture; however, the outer crust was still quite good. I'd probably lean toward reheating leftover slices in the future if possible, but I could easily eat this cold if I were feeling like a lazy-butt or similar in the morning.

Verdict: Adriatico's is a good solid eating pizza, perfect for filling bellies. If this place had been around when I was a college student, I might be 20 pounds heavier than I am now. While I might venture to their thin-crust pizzas and other menu items just simply out of curiosity, my spouse has sold me on their buttery thick-crust Sicilian style as our de facto pie of choice.

Adriatico's New York Style Pizza
265 West 11th Ave (South Campus)
Columbus, OH 43201
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Adriatico's on Urbanspoon

Short and Sweet: Red Velvet Cafe and The Early Bird

Here's a couplet of quick summaries detailing one soon-to-be-opened eatery and a food truck returning to the fold:

Red Velvet Cafe: At last year's Asian Festival, I learned about a food eatery of some sort in Pickerington which was the first one in the area opened up by Filipino-American owners. Pickerington in not a place I ever had much chance to frequent, so that bit of information went unexplored until now, as their second location is set to open up in Downtown Columbus.

Currently in soft opening phase, Red Velvet Cafe is located in a part of South 4th Street that has developed into a flourishing destination spot with current tenants 16-Bit Bar Arcade, Dirty Frank's and Little Palace; popular pizza maker Mikey's Late Night Slice is set to join the fray later this spring. This particular branch is owned and operated by Krizzia Yanga, daughter of owners Reuel and Lida Cruz of Red Velvet's Pickerington location.

From top left: Red Velvet's ube (purple yam) cupcake, their menu of
mostly Filipino-influenced sandwiches, artwork along their interior
brick walls, and the store's owners grabbing my sweet treat
Red Velvet has earned a reputation for its tasty cupcakes, with familiar gourmet flavors like salted caramel, black forest and maple bacon. However, on this visit I was hoping for, and yes, they came through with an ube (purple yam) cupcake. This distinctly Filipino creation was enjoyed very much by my spouse and I later that day.

Their panini sandwiches are quite intriguing to me, hearkening back to my younger days with their protein options like chicken adobo (chicken stewed in vinegar and soy sauce), lechon paksiw (roasted pig stewed in vinegar) and bistek (typically sliced beef cooked in soy sauce and lemon juice with carmelized onions.) While I did not have one on this quick visit in, this will be on the definite to-try list on future visits.

The brick-walled interior is nicely attired with artwork and other decor that should prove to be an inviting place to kick back and hang out inside with one of their multitude of coffee drink options. Indeed, the cafe has the capacity with all the right equipment and a solid coffee source (locally-based Impero Coffee) to brew some solid drinks.  With the "hot" weather (compared to February's weather, 60 degrees is a virtual heatwave right now) I ordered up a very nicely done Vietnamese Iced Coffee, made up in a traditional stainless steel filter. Bubble tea, a very familiar sight back in California, is also available here for downtown-area patrons.

Red Velvet Cafe's official grand opening is set for this Saturday, March 14th at 11 AM.

Red Velvet Cafe
246 S. 4th Street (Downtown)
Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 636-3967
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Red Velvet Cafe on Urbanspoon

The Early Bird has risen again with the promised warmer weather
The Early Bird: Ohio's winters are tough on mobile food businesses, and unfortunately it proved to rather tough for owner Libby Glover's rig and equipment. Temperatures below twenty degrees would force a closure of the food trailer for the day, and Glover herself took a winter break the last week of January. This turned out to be a timely move in hindsight considering that the Central Ohio region was hit with one of the colder months of February in recent memory.

However, good news is here for all you beignet lovers: Glover recently announced on her Facebook page that the Early Bird will be up and running again starting Monday, March 16th, promising some spring-inspired flavors to join some old beignet favorites to order with quality coffee (the Early Bird uses coffee beans from One Line Coffee.)

The Early Bird can be found parked in front of the Indianola Church of Christ, located on Indianola Avenue just north of Lane Avenue.

My initial Early Bird post can be found here.

The Early Bird
2141 Indianola Ave (North Campus)
Columbus, OH 43201
(614) 715-0906
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The Mitchell Report: Marcella's Ristorante

I found it a little surprising that after nearly ten months of posts, I haven't had the chance to write on a restaurant owned by ubiquitous local restaurant maven Cameron Mitchell.

It's not like I haven't been to any of their locations yet, nor have there been any that I'm not eager or willing to try. I think it's really the sheer number of restaurants under the Cameron Mitchell fold that makes it tough to get a true feel about a place through multiple visits. Suffice it to say, similar Bay Area restaurant mavens like Thomas Keller, Cindy Pawlcyn and Dennis Leary have nothing on Mitchell in regard to raw numbers of restaurants. At last count, there were fourteen locally-based locations under twelve different concepts. And there are more on the way, with the second location of Hudson 29 due to open in New Albany this spring.

Interestingly, my last visit to a Mitchell-owned restaurant told my spouse and I what we needed to know in one single visit. Marcella's Ristorante, which opened up in both Polaris and the Short North areas of the metro in 2007, is geared toward casual Italian eats and small plates. And based on our experience, the latter is a perfect way to experience this eatery, and preferably with a lot of friends in tow.

Marcella's menu (which has more than just the "Small Plates" if you want
to go that route) as well as photos of its interior and bar area.
The place was slammed on our visit, not surprising with its location in the destination neighborhood of the Short North and relative proximity to the Columbus Convention Center. Moving around the space during this time was a bit of a swerve and dive with both patrons and service personnel; it seemed a lot more people can squeeze within Marcella's smartly appointed interior than one would think could fit. With the large number of people and background music, it was fairly loud but not quite to the level of deafening.

From top left: Beef Carpaccio; Parma Prosciutto Bruschetta; Melted
Pecorino with Crostini, Apples and Truffle Honey; the Cheese Plate
and Pepperoni Pizza joined the Arancini (not pictured) for our meal
Our horde grabbed a selection of appetizers and a pepperoni pizza and this proved to be perfect for both filling up our bellies and allowing casual chatting. While wine is the main beverage focus, cocktails and some select craft beer, including Ohio-based Great Lakes and Four String, are available. Everything we had was quite good, with perhaps the group favorites being the Melted Pecorino appetizer with apples and truffle honey and the Arancini.

The staff of Marcella's appeared to be veterans at handling the crowds: food came out in fairly quick order, and beverages and empty plates were tended to as one would expect on a normal day.

Perhaps on a slower day my spouse and I might actually come in for a more relaxed experience to enjoy some of their entree offerings. Or perhaps we will go back and enjoy the small plates/appetizer side of the menu again; after all, we figured out that Marcella's does this quite well.

Marcella's Ristorante
615 N High St (Short North)
Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 223-2100
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Happily Stuck on 101: 101 Beer Kitchen

Dublin's 101 Beer Kitchen has been one of our favorite places
to be "stuck" at for some good food and brew
Back in the Bay Area, it was a common experience for me and other automobile drivers to be stuck on US Highway 101. The combination of tourist destinations along this highway's breadth along with its city street status through most of the San Francisco city limits leads to some of the worse backups within the region. My spouse and I were rudely reminded of this fact on our last return trip to California, as it took more than an hour from the airport to San Francisco itself (on a good day, one can make the trip from the airport to my parents place on the outskirts of the Napa Valley in an hour-and-a-quarter.)

In the Buckeye State, however, I've found that there's nothing wrong with being stuck on 101 for an hour or two, just as long as that 101 is Dublin-based 101 Beer Kitchen, just outside the I-270 Outerbelt near the intersection of Hard and Sawmill Roads.

101 Beer Kitchen is unique for me in that this is the first reviewed restaurant in Central Ohio where I really can't think of a close Bay Area equivalent off hand; such a place may be out there, but as of this date I have not found it. Their combination of seasonally-oriented, higher-quality, yet very accessible menu items and adult beverages (both cocktails and quality craft beer) has made this restaurant a go-to spot for my spouse and I shortly after its opening in October 2012.

The interior of 101 Beer Kitchen alternates rustic and modern, with a central
bar area and plenty of seating both inside and out. Despite the large space,
waits can be long during busy times, but most people don't seem to mind.
The interior of 101 Beer Kitchen meshes rustic touches (chalkboard menus, a fireplace and a wooden mail drop at the entrance) inside what is essentially an expansive modern strip mall space. Despite the relatively large space both inside and outside with their patio area, this eatery can be swamped during the usual busy periods, which I imagine can be a turn off for some. Generally speaking, however, we have found the service pretty good no matter how busy the restaurant is, and personally we don't mind waiting (we usually grab ourselves a beer from the bar during these times.)  Our last visit was actually during a rare slow time on a particularly snowy day, and the staff proved to be quite highly appreciative of our business.

From top left: Blackened Shrimp and Corn Cakes with Watermelon Salad; the
Beef Stroganoff with caramelized onions, the Salmon Burger with beet chips;
Pigs in a Blanket (with Kielbasa) appetizer, and the Crab Cake Skillet
with poached egg, potatoes, artichokes, onions and Hollandaise sauce.
Perhaps the best thing about their seasonally-adjusted menus is that you more than likely can find a delicious and well-prepared item that fits your mood at a pretty fair price. Perhaps that is why I've never found a true "favorite" here and am just willing to keep exploring the menu. My spouse feels similarly, though she has shown a tendency to choose any crab-oriented offerings when they are available.

Draft beer is the tip of the iceberg for 101 Beer Kitchen's beverage offerings
Similar to the food menu, you can usually find something to sate your beer cravings from their 18 taps; a selection of bottled and canned beers is also available if somehow the drafts aren't to your liking. A selection of seasonal and brunch-oriented cocktails is also available to diners, as well as a select collection of premium spirits, including that of locally-based distiller Middle West Spirits.

Since their opening, 101 Beer Kitchen has succeeded in expanding their business, including the addition of weekend brunch as well as special beer dinner events that focus on either various beer styles or the offerings of well-known local and national craft brewers.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that this restaurant has got a good thing going on, so perhaps it's not too surprising that a second location is scheduled to open across the metro in the city of Gahanna on March 16. I suspect that if 101 Beer Kitchen merely repeats the formula it has had two years to perfect at their Dublin location at their new venue, Gahanna residents will also find themselves quite happy to be stuck on 101 on a regular basis.

101 Beer Kitchen
7509 Sawmill Rd
Dublin, OH 43016
(614) 210-1010
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New location in Gahanna (scheduled opening: March 16th)
397 Stoneridge Ln
Gahanna, OH 43230
(614) 934-5501

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Szechuan Samplings: Hong Kong House

Hong Kong House has brought Szechuan dishes to Northwest Columbus
As I briefly mentioned in a prior post on a trip out to China Village in California, my spouse and I have discovered that Szechuan restaurants were not too common in the Columbus metro area. We both have come to love the ma la combination of Szechuan peppers and hot chilis that are typical of the cuisine, and our go to here has typically been Fortune Restaurant on Olentangy River Road.

Late last year, I heard some word through the grapevine that Hong Kong House, home of the former Hong Kong Buffet (a place neither my spouse or I had visited), had switched to a more conventional dine-in restaurant with a focus on traditional Szechuan dishes. Of course, this knowledge merited a fairly quick visit soon after to their location at the corner of Henderson and Reed Roads to see what they had on the menu (at the time, I couldn't seem to locate a website for the restaurant.)

Upon arrival, I spied a dry-ink board with the restaurant's specials written in Chinese. I also took a look at the diners in house: pretty much every one I spotted then, along with other visitors who arrived while I waited for my order (we decided on take out on this visit), appeared to be of Chinese descent.  Chalk up two notches in the "promising" department. The main menu proved to be the third promising notch: while there was one side devoted to more standard "Americanized" Chinese dishes, the back side had a substantial number of menu items similar to what I have seen at other Szechuan restaurants.

Decisions, decisions: Hong Kong House's menu does not lack for choices
Wanting to have a comparison point, we ordered Hong Kong House's closest dishes to three of our Fortune Restuarant favorites (Dan Dan Noodles and Dry Fried Green Beans and Dry Fried Beef)  to use as benchmarks; all their dishes compared favorably with Fortune with some slight variations (Hong Kong House's green beans, for instance, were not ma la, but provided a nice garlicky-kick instead.)

Left to Right: Dry Fried Green Beans, Dan Dan Noodles and Dry Fried Beef
Another aspect to these restaurants I had mentioned in my previous blog post was how these types of Chinese restaurants were perfect venues for a group outing, especially for diners willing to go beyond the standards. My spouse and I have been good for each other in terms of our food adventurousness, and we were looking forward to sampling more of Hong Kong House's extensive menu, despite realizing this would be something of a longer-term questing.

Here's where two of the most adventurous eaters in Central Ohio enter the picture: Bethia Woolf and Andy Dehus, founders of Columbus Food Adventures as well as just this region's ultimate online resources for this region's ethnic restaurants, taco trucks and mobile cuisine (alteatscolumbus.com, tacotruckscolumbus.com and streeteatscolumbus.com, respectively.) Some of my blog posts on our Columbus Food Adventures tour experiences (all quite excellent) and ethnic restaurant visits had led to a bit of a familiarity with each other through social media exchanges. Perhaps it was only natural that when the topic of Szechwan cuisine and Hong Kong House and our desire to explore the menu further came up, they would posit the idea: "Would you like to meetup for dinner there sometime perhaps?"

Is there any other answer to this question than "Yes, we would love to?" Nope, didn't think so.

Hong Kong House's interior decor is typically Chinese-restaurant appropriate, with artwork, tchotchkes  and other appropriate flourishes that stay somewhat bit masked with the dimly lit interior, Plenty of large round tables are present, giving visual evidence of this restaurant's ability to handle large groups of people. However, there are seats to the side where a couple can have a more intimate experience with each other. A bar is also available in the back for adult beverage orders.

We were joined at dinner at one of the large round tables by several of Bethia and Andy's colleagues, almost all of them familiar with numerous Hong Kong House dishes. With all the menu familiarity from those at the table, plus the nature of the meal where we would all be sharing our dishes family-style, we figured there would be more than enough food ordered, and we were eager to sample the favorites of our gathered guests were.

Top Row: Szechwan Style Cucumber, Wontons in Hot Chili Oil
Middle Row: Spicy Diced Chicken, Sauteed Potato Shreds
Bottom Row: Water Spinach with Minced Garlic; the aftermath
For us, there really wasn't a bad dish in the bunch. Standouts for us included the Cumin Lamb, the Wontons in Hot Chili Oil (both of which seemed to be universally liked) and the Spicy Diced Chicken (which gave me fond memories of China Village's 1000 Chili Pepper Chicken). Things that would probably scare most people, such as the Dry Fried Pork Intestine and Eggplant with Salted Fish in a Hot Pot were quite enjoyable. With the richness of many of the dishes ordered, the simpler preparations such as the Potato Shreds (had a nice gingery kick) and the Water Spinach with Garlic were provided a nice break.

Equally satisfying for us was our company for the night. While my spouse and I played the role of newcomers in relation to the group, we never felt out of sorts. I am, by nature, someone who loves to observe and absorb a conversation, and the variety of topics and experiences that Bethia, Andy and their colleagues threw out during the dinner added another element to savor this night.  We definitely hope that there are future gatherings like this down the road.

Service-wise, I have experienced no issues with Hong Kong House. Our initial takeout order came out relatively quickly, and in regard to the group dinner, dishes were also delivered in relatively rapid-fire succession such that our Lazy Susan was inundated. They were also nice enough to split up the bill evenly among our party, a process that not all restaurants are wont to perform.

With Hong Kong House, we can safely say that we now have two destination places for Szechuan cuisine in the Columbus area, and look forward to comparing the best of this eatery to what Fortune (or, for that matter, any other newcomer) has to offer. Hong Kong House's remake may not have appealed to those who were more in tune to the previous buffet-oriented incarnation; however, for those who are willing to venture forth a little from the norm, Hong Kong House definitely gives you plenty of what we have found to be tasty options.

Hong Kong House
1831 W Henderson Rd (Northwest)
Columbus, OH 43220
(614) 538-9288

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Forging Through Franklinton: Strongwater Food and Spirits

Strongwater invites you in from the "storm" with adult beverages and
a menu that caters to vegans and carnivores alike
The thriving 400 West Rich facility, seen as an anchor to the revitalization of the Franklinton neighborhood of Columbus, has continued its growth with the recently opened business incubation/co-working space in January and the planned conversion of a neighboring building into additional artist studios.

The facility has also provided a base for Columbus' culinary community. In addition to its bi-weekly Farmers Market and the food truck pod Dinin' Hall, the north end of the building holds Strongwater Food and Spirits, which has provided a dual drinking and dining destination for folks in the area since November of 2013.

Strongwater's menu and nattily designed interior space
Strongwater's dimly-lit interior, which has kept the historic birch wood and flooring of the space mostly in tact, provides some intimacy in this fairly vast space. Chatter from diners sitting in dimly lit dining spaces off to the side, as well as a large mural of the restaurant's more-or-less official symbol (a determined rower guiding their vessel through rough, stormy seas) that dominates one wall gave me the feeling that I was in a speakeasy of sorts. Another unique feature of Strongwater is its location right next to active railroad tracks; a rumbling train, seen easily through the large windows facing Town Street, provided a nice surprise during the middle of our dinner here.

Featuring the skills of head chef Anne Johnson (who will be featured in locally-based Crave Magazine), Strongwater's menu features a selection of unique vegan twists on bar food standards along with other more traditional meat-based dishes. On this visit, we intended to stay mainly on this side of the menu and started with The Dips Trio ($10). This appetizer, which provided a trio of dippable items (naan bread, crostini and vegetables) along with a trio of dips (jackfruit and spinach, hummus, and bacon and shallot dip), provided tasty finger food as we waited for our mains.

Speaking of jackfruit, I was quite intrigued by the idea of their Jackfruit Taco ($3,50 a la carte.) Growing up, I was used to jackfruit as an ingredient in some sweet desserts, and was not quite sure how that would work in a soft taco format. I was quite pleased to find it worked quite well, and I liked it a slight touch better than the shredded pork taco that I ordered in tandem. My spouse's Falafel Burger ($9) was also quite tasty, opting for the substitution of a side salad ($3) in place of the standard chips (a cup of soup can also be substituted for the same price.)

Clockwise from left: Falafel Burger and Side Salad, Jackfruit and
Shredded Pork Tacos, a flight of mostly Ohio-based beer, and
a slice of Cherry Pie provided by Honeykiss Bakery
As befitting its name, Strongwater offers a variety of cocktails and offers a regular happy hour Tuesday thru Friday from 4 PM to 7 PM. We used their rotating beer taps to our advantage with a swig bag token we had scored from the 400 West Rich Festivus Celebration in December, and scored a nice collection of beer from Ohio-based breweries such as North High, Fathead, Jackie O's and Catawba. Also, we couldn't help ourselves when we saw Honeykiss Bakery's pies were available on the dessert menu, so we treated ourselves to a slice of cherry pie ($6) to end the night.

Strongwater has a separate space that provides a venue for a variety of music, comedy and private events, and has recently announced the arrival of lunchtime hours as well as new menu items, including steam buns (yes, there is a jackfruit version,) a bacon cheeseburger, as well as OH! Chips.

We rather enjoyed our first visit to this uniquely charming eatery, and it definitely will not be our last.

Strongwater Food and Spirits
401 W Town St. (Franklinton)
Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 928-3170
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