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Takeout Pie of the Month: Borgata Pizza Cafe

Business in the Northland area of Columbus by brought me
into contact with this still under-the-radar pizzeria in Borgata
With my spouse out with friends and I cruising the north area of Columbus visiting places along State Route 161 in the late afternoon, I was thinking of what I should be having for dinner. While there are quite a few ethnic options (many yet to be explored) found along this stretch of road between I-71 and the eastern edge of I-270, nothing was particularly hitting me in the culinary sweet spot at the time. After finishing up my last bit of shopping for the day, I sat in my car and pondered this conundrum for a bit and finally resorted to a rule that's generally worked well for me:

"When all else fails, pizza."

For me, pizza almost always works as a fallback option for me, and secondly, I'm still in the midst of my Columbus-area pizza discovery quest. Thus, I took a quick look for promising candidates in the area using my mobile device and one nearby contender shot immediately to the top of my radar in the form of Borgata Pizza Cafe.

Atmosphere: With the service road setup of Route 161, there's just no way you can spot the family-owned Borgata while driving by on that main thoroughfare, or even suspect that any other businesses of any sort lie behind the Taco Bell/Dunkin' Donuts combo that fronts the road right next to the intersection with Parkville Street.

You just simply wouldn't suspect Borgata has been plugging away at its
spot behind the Dunkin' Donuts at Parkville and Route 161
While Borgata's exterior may reflect the 1970s/1980s strip mall vibe that many of the businesses in the area sport, its interior is a completely different story with its brick-lined walls, chalkboard style overhead menu, decent amount of available in-house seating, and wide-open view into the kitchen area. You can simply watch Borgata's crew work on those pizzas, or perhaps stare into the dessert case and tempt yourself with their brownies, ricotta cakes or cannoli. Other staples like calzones, wings, housemade pasta dishes and salads fill out Borgata's regular menu.

A neat little touch was provided by the staff when they brought my pizza to me. Many places will just hand you the box; here at Borgata, they opened up the box to let you view the pie. While the gesture I'm sure was done to make sure the pizza met my satisfaction, the mere sight of as well as the scent rising from this fresh from the oven pie had the added pleasurable effect of whetting my appetite that much more.

Pizza (Hot): Borgata advertises its pizza as New York styled, and indeed the pie's crust is appropriately thin without being Columbus-styled thin. On this pizza (the small supreme) the crust was definitely a bonus here, with a nice thicker outer ring, a lightly airy and chewy texture, and a crust that flopped closer to the center. If you're into folding your pizza, these slices easily fit that bill. The sauce itself was a sweeter sauce; while I prefer a more spicier sauce, the spice from the proteins on top put enough zest in each bite to make this overall a very enjoyable pie.

Pizza (Cold): I kind of wondered how this pizza would hold up to refrigeration, considering it was a supreme pizza and naturally floppy to start with. To my mild surprise, the crust actually firmed up to a more chewy consistency and held the weight of the toppings pretty well. Definitely doable as a straight-out-of-the-refrigerator slice, but I can easily see this being great reheated as well.

After having my pie, I found some more positives about Borgata from various folks who would be in the know like the CMH Gourmand, Pizza Slayer and Pie Are Round. Let me add my voice to the chorus here - Borgata is definitely worth seeking out for a good slice or two.

Borgata Pizza Cafe
5701 Parkville St (Northland - Google Maps)
Columbus, OH 43229
(614) 891-2345
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Destination Unknown: Cravings Carryout Cafe

No one likes to see their local regular destination eatery disappear from the scene. A recently broadcast cable TV feature on the former  The Surly Girl Saloon. reminded me of that fact just a few days ago. Their sudden departure from the local scene earlier this year in April was sad for us and the restaurant's regulars, but the impression I got after reading the local media stories was that it was something both inevitable and a bit of a relief for its former owners. Many of us came out to send the Surly Girl off with a fond farewell in its final week of operation.

Other similar closings we have encountered such as Merion Village's Explorers Club and Jobu Ramen have thankfully led to only venue changes; the former has established a well-received food truck and is in the process of setting up a kitchen at Grandview's Zauber Brewing. Meanwhile, the latter has revived their Mashita Noodles food cart and makes regular appearances at places around the area such as the Brewery District's Double Happiness.

Then there are the out-of-the-blue closing announcements that are unexpected and leave both owners and patrons alike bewildered. Such is the case with Italian Village's Cravings Carryout Cafe.

Cravings started off in January 2012 under a different name (Cookie Cravings Bakery) that reflected its very simple concept: specialty decorated cookies. Demand from the friends of cafe owners the Tewangers (Matt, his mom Joan, and his wife Lindsey) for their cookies grew to the point where they quit their regular day jobs and opened up a shop in their uniquely quirky location (as time went on, I visited there often enough to only THINK I knew how to navigate the entrance without a hitch) in Italian Village on East Third Avenue.

From there, things grew both around the bakery's surroundings as well as within the bakery itself. In the surrounding area, food-oriented businesses such as Seventh Son Brewing, Cray Eatery and Drinkery, The Market Italian Village and Fox in the Snow Cafe, amongst others, have made Italian Village a culinary destination within the Columbus metro. For the bakery, the business of continual cookie-making got a little bit old for Matt (formerly of well-known eateries such as The Worthington Inn and The Refectory) and the rest of the Tewangers, and the shop slowly but surely added more savory items to the menu much to customers' delight. In 2014, the bakery re-branded itself to its current nameplate, still offering their cookies but making those a little more of an accompaniment to a focused but diverse menu of both breakfast and lunch items.

Cravings Carryout Cafe could add two other C-words (cozy
and casual) to describe its uniquely intimate interior
In many ways, I imagine Cravings Carryout has reached a beloved status for its surrounding residents similar to what Sassafras Bakery has become for us over time, enough so to bring people from outside the immediate neighborhood. This proved the same for us whenever we would be traveling through the Italian Village neighborhood. The cafe would be a perfect place to pick up a quick cookie snack and an excellent iced coffee (brewed with beans from local roaster Thunderkiss; in fact, the cafe produced a solid business of selling growlers of iced coffee over the months.)

As time went on, their breakfast and lunch savory items became a nice alternative when we were in the area and in the mood for something freshly-made in a very casual setting. Their sweet items have also evolved beyond cookies to things cinnamon rolls and eventually the Bronut, their brioche-based donut that seems to be the logical successor in the best blended-bakery-goods mashup since the now-closed Auddino's and their Doughssant.

From their Bronuts to their lunch items and sides, Cravings Carryout
sports a focused menu of tasty, freshly-made items
Things seemed to be going on business as usual until this August 25th post on their Facebook feed desperately requesting people's help in finding a new location due to the loss of their lease. Even if a place were to emerge immediately, the cafe's last day of business in their Italian Village location would be September 13th. Based on the number of responses to that post with followers' suggestions and general words of support, quite a few people from around the metro would love for the Tewangers to relocate their operations to their particular neck of the woods.

At this time of much uncertainty for the cafe, there are three things I can be certain of at this point. One thing is that the Terwangers are going to do their darndest to get the cafe relocated. Another is that if they're successful in relocating, the neighborhood that they relocate to will be that much the better for landing them.

Lastly, I am certain I am going to make at least one more visit to the cafe to try that vaunted Bronut (which, sadly, I have not have the chance to enjoy yet) along with a Thunderkiss iced coffee. When that happens, I know it will be the start of a very good day.

Hopefully, I will be enjoying another in the future at their new location, wherever that may be...

Currently, the last day of business for Cravings Carryout Cafe at their Italian Village location is scheduled for Sunday, September 13.

09/06/2015 Update - while the Mill Run location of Auddino's Bakery Cafe has closed, the doughssant and other goodies live on at Auddino's original location at 1490 Clara St, Columbus, Ohio. Thanks to everyone who pointed out this (delicious) correction to me.

As far as Cravings Carryout, there is no word yet on a new location, but I did get to sample their Bronut like I intended. This is a definite item on the to-eat-again at their new location, wherever it may be.

Cravings Carryout Cafe
227 East 3rd Ave (Italian Village)
Columbus, OH 43201
(614) 725-0090
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No Curveballs Here: Jobu Ramen

People in the know can tell you that Jobu is a reference to the movie Major League. Specifically, Jobu was the god of voodoo whom Cleveland Indians' slugger Pedro Cerrano constantly prayed to for help with everything, including that almost impossible task of hitting the curveball.

At Jobu Ramen, the still relatively new restaurant located in the Grandview Heights neighborhood of Columbus, you really won't find too much that resembles a curveball. The menu here is fairly concise, built around (what else) ramen and a few select related appetizers and entrees.

As someone who came from the Northern California Bay Area, it might be surprising to hear that I have had no real prior experience with traditional ramen (the cheapo, instant ramen you find in stores at four for a dollar, on the other hand...) Most of the best examples of this Japanese classic in the area were on the far opposite side of the bay for me. When  I was in a soup mood, I generally stuck with Chinese or Vietnamese takes on this standard. However, Mrs. 614orty-Niner and I are making it a long-term goal to get more acquainted with the dish and discover what makes one ramen standout over another.

The interior of Jobu is as concise as its menu: an intimate, dimly lighted space that might make you think you've stumbled into some back alley ramen joint somewhere in Tokyo itself, with a little bit of hipster vibe thrown in. Due to this limited space, I can imagine wait times could be an issue at busier times, though we have not experienced that issue yet.

As neophytes, we asked quite a few questions and our server proved up to the task in explaining their menu quite well. My spouse was bound and determined regardless to sample the ramen and went straight for the pork miso ($13.) On the other hand, I was not fully into a big bowl of soup, so I ordered some of the most intriguing items to me: the steam buns (two for $9, with one each of the chicken and pork) and the chicken wings with five spice rub (five for $7.)

The steamed buns were served in novel manner, resembling a puffy street taco with slabs of chicken and pork belly underneath a big pile of microgreens. While we thought they were both excellent, the pork belly turned out to be our favorite with its lusciously fatty slabs of pork belly. The pork miso ramen also was a hit, as the same pork belly added a richness to the broth that proved satisfying despite our laughable attempts to gather the entire sensory experience via slurping.

The five-spice wings were decent fare, well-fried and juicy but probably something I'd only order in the future if I was in a wing mood.

My spouse got to return a second time (no, I'm not jealous) with a sibling in tow and gave her hearty approval for the Yakisoba (offered as a special for $10.)  The noodles were fried up well, and the mix of that with vegetables and pork made for a satisfying dinner.

With this being our first real ramen experience, we won't proclaim this the best ramen ever (though, by default, it is the best we have eaten.) What we can say with certainty is that has magnified our interest in this culinary staple, and that we personally have enjoyed our experiences here. We look forward to more visits both here and other area purveyors, perfecting our slurping techniques with every savory mouthful.

08/27/2015 - Update: Jobu Ramen was forced to close January of this year, but in its place, owner John Franke has successfully relaunched his Mashita Noodles pop-up ramen cart. For the latest updates on Mashita, please consult their Facebook page.

Jobu Ramen
1439 Grandview Avenue (Fifth by Northwest)
Columbus, OH 43212
(614) 481-5480

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Planes and Trains by Automobile (Pt 1): National Museum of the US Air Force (Dayton, OH)

The National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, OH holds the
world's largest collection of military aerospace vehicles and missiles
Dayton, Ohio has played a large part in the development of aviation, mainly through the work of area residents Orville and Wilbur Wright, who are credited with being the first to invent a successful airplane as well as make a powered, heavier-than-air and sustained flight with such a craft. It thus only seems logical that a museum related to aviation be located near this southwestern Ohio city of just over 140,000 people.

Originating as an endeavor by the for collecting technical artifacts for preservation from Dayton's old McCook Field in the 1920s, what has eventually evolved into the current National Museum of the United States Air Force officially opened to the public in 1954. Its current site, located just outside Wright-Patterson Air Force Base opened in 1971, has become not only one the state of Ohio's largest tourist attractions but also the largest military museum in the world.

Being large in size by default implies there is a lot to be seen, and this museum does not disappoint in that regard with its over 360 air and space vehicles and other related items on display.

You want air- and spacecraft? The museum has plenty displayed
throughout its three hangar-styled buildings, including
a Space Shuttle Space Shuttle Crew Compartment Trainer
Having visited the museum twice, I have surmised that a visitor's tolerance for staring at all manner of mostly military flying aircraft for a few hours really depends on their enthusiasm for doing such. As someone who is into aviation in general and whose family has military roots, my tolerance level is pretty high, but even I was feeling a bit of mental overload as the hours wore on. Perhaps the best strategy lies in the fact that admission is free to the museum; if you live close enough, you could easily schedule two visits to the museum and concentrate on particular exhibits on each excursion.

While most exhibits are aircraft-oriented, other galleries that break up the viewing routine are available. Many of them are related to aspects of the US Air Force (no surprise there), including various memorials, the origin of the USAF song, and so forth. However, a few exhibits veer more to the general, ranging from the whimsical (a retrospective on actor/comedian Bob Hope's work in entertaining deployed troops throughout the years, and a history of the Bendix Trophy Races, which were used to encourage advancement in aviation) to the weighty (a series of Vietnam War paintings and viewpoints by painter Wilson Hurley and a collection of artifacts and recollections of Dayton-area residents who had personal experience with the Holocaust concentration camps in Nazi Germany during World War II.)

Many of the other non-aircraft exhibits are mainly Air Force-related
but other more general exhibits rating from the whimsical
to the weighty can be found.
Perhaps my favorite wing lies in the on-base hangar which contains two co-located galleries. The Presidential Gallery contains four aircraft which have served as Air Force One under eight different presidents, and this fact alone attracts individuals to go through the processing needed to visit this exhibit (only 8 shuttle bus trips are available to travel onto the base itself and visit this area; valid picture IDs are required to board.) Indeed, the chance to experience these historic vehicles close up, including the ability to walk through the larger craft and see the interior makeup within, is a pretty special treat.

However, my favorite part of this hangar currently lies in the co-located Research & Development area, where experimental and almost-were aircraft that are tightly packed around the perimeter of the presidential aircraft. Here, you'll see everything from the sleek and supersonic (the XB-70 Valkyrie, whose supersonic bombing capabilities were deemed obsolete when defense strategies shifted toward intercontinental ballistic missiles) to unusual engineering concepts (the X-29 with its forward-swept wings) to the just plain weird (the Avro Canada VZ-9AV Avrocar, which looks like a flying saucer but couldn't fly much higher than three feet off the ground without experiencing severe handling problems.) While docents are available in all areas of the facility, hanging with one here (by default, one is included as a tram escort) is especially helpful in learning the why and the how for these unique flying machines.

The Presidential and Research & Development Galleries, co-located in
an on-base hangar, give visitors a chance to experience the
U.S. Presidency and unique aviation concepts up close
This particularly intimate nature of this setup is set to end soon: come October 1st of this year, this hangar will close permanently for exhibition. However, access to the aircraft within will not be lost to the public: over the next several months, the vehicles will be transported to the newly constructed fourth wing of the existing museum, with the opening date set for June 2016.

Along with the exhibits and galleries, the museum also offers visitors the Valkyrie Cafe, which offers cafeteria-style items at fairly inexpensive prices; an extensive gift shop; various ride and flight simulators; and the Museum Theatre, which sports the largest movie screen in southwest Ohio and the latest 3D technology.

The National Museum of the US Air Force is open 9 AM to 5 PM seven days a week, except on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Admission is free to the museum, but donations are welcome and appreciated.

The National Museum of the US Air Force
1100 Spaatz Street
Wright-Patterson AFB (near Dayton), OH 45433
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Ice Cream Chronicles (Vol. 17): Crossing the Y(ummy)-Bridge - Tom's Ice Cream Bowl

Next to the Y-Bridge, Tom's Ice Cream Bowl might be
Zanesville Ohio's most familiar landmark
Founded by John McIntire in 1797, on land deeded by town namesake as well as father-in-law Ebenezer Zane, Zanesville stands as the largest Ohio outpost on the I-70 freeway between the Columbus metro area and the West Virginia border. Known historically for its Y-Bridge (in its fifth iteration since its original construction in 1814) and its renowned pottery industry, Zanesville also sports a top-ranked ice cream store as determined by USA Today in Tom's Ice Cream Bowl.

Originally known as Jack Hemmer Ice Cream when the business first opened in 1948, its current appellation as Tom's Ice Cream Bowl was finalized in 1957, four years after now-retired co-founder Tom Mirgon bought Jack's interest in the business. Current owner Bill Sullivan, the former store manager, agreed to keep the business pretty much the same. In fact, while other ice cream brick-and-mortar shops I have visited over the past couple years may have been in business longer, Tom's may be the one store (Johnson's Ice Cream in Bexley is also a contender here) that stays the most true to its bygone era of origin.

Dapper employees in white hats and aprons matched with black bow ties stand behind the counter within a distinctly soda fountain styled setup that probably hasn't changed all that much since the 1950s. The non-ice cream menu also stays firm to those classic 50's-era diner dishes (burgers, hot dogs and chili) with a few Ohio-area twists (shredded chicken and Rittberger fried baloney sandwiches.) To top it off, a line of nuts and candies from Canton's Ben Heggy's are available to take home for further snacking. We got the impression prior to our visit that large crowds are something of the norm at Tom's, and nothing from our experience dissuaded us from that line of thinking.

Tom's Ice Cream Bowl blends an ice cream soda fountain atmosphere
with diner dish favorites and Ben Heggy's nuts and candies
Of course, they wouldn't call it the "Ice Cream Bowl" if they didn't have ice cream, and we weren't dropping by simply to look at what flavors were on the board. Tom's sports both seasonal and standard flavors ice cream all made in-house, and we decided we both would go with one dip off both flavor menus (Tom's regular flavors are listed in two corners of the store.)

That's our bowl of absolute frozen deliciousness coming our way
True to the name, we received our ice cream in bowls, and there was a lot of it to be had. I ordered my standard Butter Pecan, which was good but I felt was trumped by the Coconut Chocolate Almond (it ranks up with the Coconut Chai from Cedarville's The Neapolitan as one of my favorites this year) I bagged as my second dip. My spouse's Maple Nut was also quite delicious, and she was also pretty pleased by her Chocolate Caramel Marshmallow Fudge. Prices for the ice cream and the menu as a whole fall on the inexpensive side of the ledger, making it fairly easy for the visitor to fill their bellies without breaking the bank...or bowl, in this particular case.

Tom's Ice Cream Bowl
532 Mcintire Ave
Zanesville, OH
(740) 452-5267
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US 33 Drive-Bys: The Electric Brew (Goshen, IN) and Mad Anthony BrewingCompany (Ft. Wayne, IN)

There's an old saying about taking the path less traveled, and my spouse and I are full believers in that line of thought. When expedience is the goal, the combination of US Route 23 to the Ohio/Indiana Turnpike via I-75 to get to the Northern Indiana/South Michigan/Chicago metro areas is a perfectly fine route to take. However, US 33, traversing a crooked line from Elkhart, Indiana to Richmond, Virginia, offers a wonderful drive through the countryside and includes some of the more picturesque areas in the heart of Ohio, including Bellefontaine, the scenic Hocking Hills, and the Athens area in the southeast..

Of course, you can't take a leisurely drive like that without stopping along the way somewhere for some food and beverages, right?

The Electric Brew, named for the unique electrified shoe sign
that stood outside its original downtown space, has been
serving its coffee to local residents since 1996
The Electric Brew - My spouse was familiar with this coffee shop from previous travels into the area. However, it had been awhile since her last visit when we dropped on an early weekend afternoon for a quick shot of caffeine.

Established by ex-Oregonian Brenda Hostetler-Kauffman and her husband Tony in 1996, The Electric Brew touts itself as Goshen's original coffeehouse. Since its opening, the business has undergone a couple of ownership changes but has not lost the original vision and has become essentially a family-owned business, with various members of the Bontrager family running the shop since 2009.

The Electric Brew offers  the typical coffeehouse trappings and a cozy
yet spacious interior in its historic downtown Goshen space
The spacious interior of Electric Brew sports a combination of old-time and modern elements that would feel right in line with one of Columbus' older neighborhoods. A visitor to this coffeehouse can easily hide away within dual-level building, or socialize with a group on their outdoor patio area.

Since 2008, this coffeehouse has featured its own line of in-house roasted coffees and offers visitors the usual assortment of hot and cold java drinks. The two iced coffee drinks we ordered on this brief stop were well prepared, and the service was welcoming and friendly.

Similar to Columbus' Impero Coffee, Electric Brew has a "Suspended Coffee" program where you can buy a coffee ahead of time for a less-fortunate individual. Meanwhile, available food options for the diner include scratch-made breakfast items sandwiches, salads and baked goods.

If you happen to be in nearby Elkhart, a second location of the Electric Brew has now opened as of May 2015 at the former location of The Daily Grind on 113 East Lexington Ave.

The Electric Brew
118 E Washington St.
Goshen, IN 46528
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Mad Anthony Brewing has been providing brew and food to residents
around the Fort Wayne area since 1998
Mad Anthony Brewing Company - Mad Anthony Brewing, like the city it resides in (Fort Wayne), is a nod to the Revolutionary War-era general and House Representative Anthony Wayne. Wayne's unique "Mad Anthony" sobriquet derives from his famously tempestuous nature and his impulsive maneuvers on the battlefield. Later, his actions leading troops in the Northwest Indian War led to the annexation of much of the land that would become Ohio and Indiana by the newly formed United States.

Mad Anthony Brewing falls in the first wave of Indiana microbreweries, establishing itself in 1998 and eventually occupying the space formerly known as the Munchie Emporium, located just to the south of Fort Wayne's main downtown area. In many ways, the interior seems pretty much frozen in that pre-Y2K era, the most prominent feature being the Heineken-themed drinkers hall-of-fame-of-sorts (our server explained that the names of those who managed to pound down a certain number of Heineken beers at one setting; their reward was immortality on the ceiling above.) Locals probably don't pay the ceiling much mind now, and plenty of them were in house on the night we dropped by conversing and hanging out, probably relaxing from a day's worth of outdoor-based activities.

Mad Anthony's features a huge menu and solidly brewed beers of various styles
In many ways, we found the relation of Mad Anthony Brewing to the Indiana beer scene similar to that of Asheville Brewing Company to the burgeoning scene in Asheville, North Carolina. Both breweries were established roughly at the same time, have branch locations in the surrounding area (Mad Anthony Brewing can also be found in Angola, Auburn and Warsaw), and sport draft beers that rate as solidly made and generally enjoyable. However, if you are a more experienced craft beer drinker and/or looking to expand your craft beer palate, neither of these two breweries will most likely give you what you are seeking.

Mad Anthony has a plethora (some would argue too many) of items available to order on its menu. Indeed, for the drop-by visitor, the array of sandwiches, pizza, burgers,"un-wraps", etc. is a bit dizzying, and I imagine you have to be a regular to figure out what the true gems are. As it stood, the Chicago Italian Beef sandwich and Walleye Sliders were decent fare, rating a half-notch lower or so from similar places sporting large menus we have visited recently such as Gella's Diner/LB Brewing in Hays, KS, or Columbus' own Smokehouse Brewing.

Mad Anthony Brewing Company
2002 Broadway
Fort Wayne, Indiana 46802
(260) 426-2537
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First Impressions: Asian Persuasion Food Truck and Companion Bagel

Asian Persuasion offers Filipino and Thai dishes from their food truck
Asian Persuasion: I grew up as a kid with Filipino cuisine as a staple, and I never really had to search too hard or long for it back in the San Francisco Bay Area. Central Ohio has been a whole other story, however, with options few and far between (the Mya's Fried Chicken food truck special Filipino nights and Red Velvet Cafe's Filipino fusion sandwiches being notable exceptions.) So it was only natural to feel excited when I heard a new food truck featuring Filipino staples was launching in the area in the form of Asian Persuasion.

Cleared to launch operations last month, the truck initially put in a few stops in Dayton, but has now set up regularly in the Columbus area the past couple weeks. One of those locations happened to be at the festivities leading up to an event we were attending (the Cleveland Browns Orange-Brown Scrimmage at The Shoe on The Ohio State University campus last Friday.) Obviously, we were both quite happy to see them and couldn't help but stop by to sample their wares.

On this day, Asian Persuasion featured some Thai dishes such as Thai Beef Jerky and a Papaya Salad; however, we were here to test out the Filipino items, which were represented by a select number of basic staples such as Lumpia (egg rolls), Pancit Bihon (the Filipino version of chow mein), and Lechon (spit-roasted pork). While Lechon was also available in an additional "Americano" sandwich form, we went with the more traditional three dishes.

From top left: Asian Persuasion's mascot Lil' Baboy stands guard; chunks
of spit-roasted Lechon, fried Lumpia rolls, Pancit Bihon
For the most part, I'd say these are all well-done and tasty versions of the dishes I grew up with. The Pancit had a nice lightly garlicky flavor and sported a additional vegetables (in the form of chopped bell peppers) along with what I usually expect in the dish such as cabbage, carrots and scallions. The Lumpia was fried up crisp and to the edge of being burnt (the way I prefer it) and sported a very uniquely fine, almost puréed texture with its meat-filling. Meanwhile, the Lechon was for the most part moist and fatty, just like it should be (kinda' wished there was a sarsa dipping sauce to go with it, but the pork by itself was perfectly fine.)

Service was just a touch slow, which seemed to be due to a combo of factors including many diners asking questions about the dishes, the sheer number of diners itself, and a backup of orders for those who went with Pancit (out of the three dishes I had, this one takes the most time to whip up a new batch.)  Also, I imagine that just sheer experience should help the Asian Persuasion crew process their food much more quickly and efficiently in the upcoming months.

Asian Persuasion can be found stationed at various locations and events around the Columbus metro; please consult their Facebook page for the latest updates.

Asian Persuasion Food Truck
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Companion Bagel is quite happy to be a small local vendor
at the Clintonville Farmers Market

Companion Bagel:  Even in the limited sphere of bagel providers in the Columbus area, bagel bakers can find it tough to break into the local scene, with the presence of local stalwarts like Sammy's and Block's (Toledo-based Barry Bagels has also recently entered the market), and their bigger chain competitors such as Einstein Bros, Panera and  Breugger's. Perhaps Jake and Jess Hollår, brother/sister founders of Companion Bagel, have the right idea by going in something of the opposite direction: stay small, think big (as in a Bagel CSA(!)), and lure the public in with baked goods featuring uniquely novel flavor conversations.

Based on a brief chat with Jake at their stand at the Clintonville Farmers Market, Companion is definitely a labor of love: not many people are willingly rising at 2 AM in the morning to get their baking process going. Jake himself has been involved in numerous other past food-focused efforts, including stints with The Cheesy Truck and Alana's as well as the Gourmet Picnic, a Columbus-area monthly supper club.

Flavor profiles in Companion's Bagels products, from bialy to bagels
to beyond, are both unique and focus on area ingredient providers
The bagels we sampled from Companion may not satisfy the bagel purists from a texture standpoint - they're a bit bready though negligibly so when compared to a similar offering from Einstein Bros. However, those who are seeking unique flavor profiles will be more than satisfied with their creations. From their Serrano and Date combo, to their changing seasonal variety (in our case, it was a Trumpet mushroom baked with Blue Jacket Dairy's wonderful Gretna Cheese) to our favorite of the first three we brought home (the wonderful olive-y Castelvetrano and Cracked Pepper, featuring North Market Spices port-brined smoked peppercorns), we were more than happy to make these typically breakfast-oriented items our dinner for one night.

While the plan is for Companion Bagel to stay small and sustainable, Jake mentioned that growth may be in the works in the form of their Bagel Chips, which he's hoping to have available in a couple of Clintonville-area markets in the near future.

Companion Bagel
Regularly found at the Clintonville and Jefferson Township Farmers Markets
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Fried Chicken Bender (Pt. 5): Hot Chicken Takeover

Hot Chicken Takeover, now occupying the second floor of Columbus'
North Market has become something of a local phenomenon since
it started as a mere idea for a pop-up restaurant in late 2013
Like Northeast Ohio's Barberton Fried Chicken, a Serbian variant on this ubiquitous dish as described in an earlier blog post on White House Chicken, the origin of Nashville's hot variant of this dish has an equally lengthy history dating back to the 1930s. Perhaps reflective of the dish itself, the history is a much more fiery one to boot.

As the legend goes, in the 1930's, notorious ladies' man Thornton Prince was met at home by his woman, who was none too pleased with his evening's female-oriented activities. She doctored up his usual fried chicken meal the next morning with an ungodly amount of spice as an act of revenge; unfortunately for her, Prince actually loved the dish. Shortly thereafter, Prince turned this dish into what would eventually become Prince's Hot Chicken Shack, the original purveyor of what has become Nashville's signature dish and the latest and greatest thing in many cities around the country.

The latter has certainly been the case here in Columbus. In fact, you might even call it a takeover of sorts in this area, as the folks at Hot Chicken Takeover (HCT) have turned this flaming creation into a local phenomenon of long lines, community giving and critical acclaim, including Columbus Alive's designation as Best Restaurant in its 2015 Readers Poll.

In many ways, owner Joe DeLoss' brainstorm of an eatery has led a charmed life. From its origins as a mere idea after a Nashville-area visit in late 2013, DeLoss created a somewhat unconventional weekend pop-up restaurant in one of Columbus' still emerging neighborhoods in Olde Towne East. Hallmarks of this pop-up involved, among other things, a pre-ordering of your meal via event tickets, free beverages (both water and their Ma's Sweet Tea,) community-styled seating that encouraged interaction between strangers, and a community support component (including an emphasis on hiring those who have traditionally had problems getting work and a program where tips are put toward HCT employee benefits.)

The buzz created from their operation led to a temporarily temporary/now permanent second floor space at Columbus' destination North Market, followed by a successful crowdfunding campaign for a food truck. With that truck, HCT has been taking its wares to various local events (including Columbus Crew games) and on a summer "tour" of Columbus' community stops (as determined by a popular vote campaign), including their original "home" neighborhood of Olde Towne East.

While HCT has adapted to its North Market brick-and-mortar location,
the base model that emerged from its pop-up days has stayed in tact
The HCT formula was tweaked over time at their original pop-up (the ticketing system went by the wayside, replaced by a more standard payment system and a social media-based notification system on what chicken was left for ordering) but the eventual end product is more or less what one will find at their North Market brick-and-mortar location. Lines at the usual busy times are commonplace but the queue typically goes fairly fast. Meanwhile, long bench seating duplicates the community-style dine-in experience of the pop-up restaurant, and a chalkboard keeps updated "what's left" chicken piece numbers for visitors. Containers of Ma's Sweet Tea, Water, and a table of various condiments are found just past the ordering area.

HCT's fried chicken mirrors the typical preparation (basically, chicken is brined, double-fried and rubbed with a cayenne-based paste) and service (the chicken comes with pickles and basic white bread) of its Nashville poultry cousin. The ordering has remained much the same as its pop-up location: the diner chooses the type of chicken (wings, drumsticks, white, dark, boneless or a sandwich) and the spice level (cold, warm, hot and holy (aka extremely hot)). All orders come with mac 'n cheese or cole slaw by default, though you can decline the sides and pay less. Extra pieces and/or sides (such as waffles) can also be ordered, and a kid's meal is also available. Banana pudding is available as a sweet treat for the end of the meal, and Boylan's Cola is available for folks who aren't into their sweet tea.

From the Top Left: HCT's base model dark meat combo (holy spice
level); a peek inside their sandwich; free beverages include
water and Ma's Sweet Tea
As spicy food lovers, we had heard about Nashville hot chicken before HCT's establishment, and we were more than eager to try their "holy" level chicken, but for our first visit we wanted to come in at one level below that to get an idea of what we were in for and settled for "hot." My spouse is a dark meat lover and went for their dark thigh and leg combo, while I decided to try out their sandwich.

No complaints from either of us here for either of our dishes: both had a nice kick from the cayenne, and chicken itself had a nicely crunchy exterior and juicy meat interior. As for our sides, the Ma's Mac was appropriately cheesy and gooey (sandwich orderers get double the mac 'n cheese, as the slaw goes onto the sandwich), and we both appreciated the tangy, non-mayo-based slaw. The sweet tea also seems to hit the right spot, coming just underneath a level that would be considered cloying by our standards.

Our later dive into the "holy" level for us was undertaken with the same order for my spouse (the dark thigh and leg combo) while I went with the white bone-in breast chicken. If nothing else, it demonstrated to me two things, one of which I knew and one of which was slightly unexpected. First, our spice tolerances have increased: the heat burn (a warming but not uncomfortable sensation) from the chicken was felt outside on the lips and chin rather than inside our mouths.

Secondly, I figured out I didn't need to the hottest level to enjoy HCT's chicken - this was still as juicy and crispy as the hot level, and I'm sure the "cold" level chicken (which I would not mind trying in the future) will be equally as tasty and juicy despite the lack of spice. My spouse, on the other hand, loved this spice level, and will have no problems keeping the "holy" level as her default on our future visits.

Hot Chicken Takeover
North Market. 2nd Floor
59 Spruce St. (Arena District)
Columbus, OH 43215
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The Truth is in the Tasting: Veritas Tavern (Delaware, OH)

Veritas Tavern has been serving some of the area's finest
cuisine since its opening in 2012
Generally speaking, my spouse and I are pretty happy with the more modestly priced side of the culinary ledger, whether it be a hole-in-the-wall hot pot place, various mobile vendor eats or a well-prepared nicer meal at a favorite neighborhood joint. On special occasions, we do like to indulge just a little bit (we've had a wonderful anniversary dinner at Healdsburg, California's Barndiva, for instance) and with a stretch of various anniversaries and birthdays coming around, we figured it was the perfect time to do just that.

In the Bay Area, restaurant tasting menus are easy enough to find, and cover the gamut of price ranges (granddaddy once-in-a-pocketbook for the average Joe & Jane type places like The French Laundry or Saison) to the far more accessible and perhaps surprising (the Ethiopian-oriented Radio Africa & Kitchen or the latin cuisine of Mr. Pollo) and everything in-between (Manresa and Gary Danko, among many worthy contenders.)

In the Columbus area, the choices are not near as plentiful in regard to restaurants that offer this option as part of their regular menu. Latitude 41 in downtown Columbus offers a regular tasting menu option, and some Japanese restaurants  (including Columbus' renowned Kihachi) offer an omakase option that essentially leaves your meal completely up to the chef's whims on the day of your dining.

Another option involves a bit of a drive, especially for those trying to come from the southern reaches of Franklin County during the traffic morass that often builds along the north side of the I-270 Beltway during the afternoon commute. However, our recent experience with the $55 per person seasonal tasting menu at Veritas Tavern, a place we had wanted to try for awhile, showed that this drive is more than worth it.

Veritas features a straightforward appearance both in its
interior as well as its food and beverage menus...
Open since July of 2012, Veritas Tavern's interior actually sports a fairly simple appearance, with a bar area dominating the space bordered by high-backed chairs and tables diner seating; the ceiling is a fairly simple, ceramic-tiled affair and the walls are intermittently dotted with "book" shelves (shelves actually made of books) along with historic pictures of Delaware and other pieces of art.

The menus are similarly straightforward: the A La Carte menu (which did tempt us greatly) features a focused selection of Before (appetizers), Small Plates and After (dessert) dishes. The most detailed menu may be their beverage menu, which details Veritas' intriguing selection of cocktails, wine, beer and spirits. However, it was the most simply laid out menu, their Tasting Menu, which started off and remained our mutual intention this night.

If anything, experience at Veritas made us gain greater appreciation of flavors rarely or never before explored. While we are generally beer drinkers, Veritas' craft cocktail preparations gave us new appreciation in that line of adult beverages. Creme de Violette, a violet flower based liqueur, and various gins provided the link between our two favorite drinks of the night in The Aviation, mixed with Maraschino Luxado and lemon, and the Moonlight, partnered with Cointreau and lime. Even the more familiar preparations like the Caiparinha seemed to have something extra compared to previously experienced renditions at other bars and eateries.

More tastes like Veritas' Crab Blossom, featuring a squash blossom
stuffed with crab with a rich fresno and ancho pepper sauce,

 pickled carrots & radishes, may make me a seafood lover yet.
Seafood has always been one of those classes of food items that I have never pursued with much vigor (my spouse, on the other hand, has no such compunctions.) However, chef/owner Josh Dalton's seafood-based preparations were some of my favorites of the night, whether it was the very simple Oyster and Strawberry (a subtle raw oyster flavor dancing alternately between strawberry sweet and briny) or the more complex (and the favorite dish for both of us) Crab Blossom, featuring an squash blossom stuffed with incredibly sweet, creamy crab, bracketed with pickled carrot, radish and delicious Ancho and Fresno pepper sauces.) I may be a seafood convert yet if I could eat more dishes like this.

Other tasting menu items (clockwise from top left: The playful Bellini meal
opener; Oyster + Strawberry; Terres Major + Potatoes + Chanterelle;
"Tomato Watermelon + Feta"; and "Shrimp 'N Grits"
As this eight-course tasting menu continued and the cocktails slowly but surely had their expected effect, the exacting descriptions of each dish became fuzzy but the excellence of the food continued strong. Whether it was their playful dessert-like opener (the Bellini, a one-bite white chocolate globe containing a peach-laced Prosecco center), the unique take on the breakfast dish Shrimp 'N Grits (a shrimp-flavored lace chip topped with polenta with a tiny squeeze bottle of New Orleans area hot sauce), the play of sweet watermelon and salty feta amidst fresh tomatoes in their Tomato + Watermelon + Feta salad, or the absolutely tender meat mixed with perfectly cooked potatoes and mushrooms in their Terres Major + Potatoes + Chanterelles (just slightly behind the Crab Blossom in terms of favorites), my spouse and I were thoroughly satisfied by our experience.

We learned through a brief jaunt before our dinner that the downtown area of Delaware seems to be more than suited for a day trip from the metro, with the addition of two new beer-oriented places (the bottle shop/brewing supply oriented Barley Hopsters and newly opened Restoration Brew Worx brewery); antique shops; some new (Son of Thurman) and old (Hamburger Inn) heartier food options; Division III college-level and professional sports with Ohio Wesleyan University and the Ohio Machine Lacrosse team, respectively; and a little bit of history to boot. 

This won't be our last time to Delaware, and another visit to Veritas is all but the truth at this point.

Veritas Tavern
15 E Winter St.
Delaware, OH 43015
(740) 417-4074
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