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June Travelogue: The Beautiful Game, Malaysian-Styled

Exterior view of Bukit Jalil National Stadium, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Living in the Bay Area, I don't think I got a true appreciation for the truly highest level of college football fanaticism until I moved to the Buckeye state. Ironically, it was a trip back to California, where I saw hordes of Buckeye football fans temporarily turn the University of California's Memorial Stadium into the west coast pop-up location of The Shoe during a pre-conference game between the Bucks and the Golden Bears where I got the first full taste of this phenomenon.

My appreciation of what most other countries outside of the United States know as football was essentially nil for the first three decades or so of my life. However, my attention level to this sports received two energetic jolts around the turn of the millennium with two World Cup performances by the U.S. national teams. In 1999, U.S. Women's World Cup team capped off a championship run with the iconic penalty kick goal by Brandi Chastain in 1999, followed a few years later in 2002 when the United States Men's team put in its best performance in a World Cup since 1930 by making a quarterfinals appearance, only to lose 1-0 to eventual finalist Germany.

Since then, I've paid attention to all the World Cup tournaments (including the current Women's World Cup in Canada) and every now and again would find myself watching a Major League Soccer (MLS) game on TV when nothing else tickled my fancy. Columbus itself has a fairly fanatical following with its own MLS soccer team the Columbus Crew; my spouse and I hope to get our first taste of the experience this year by attending a game or two.

My taste of the true fanaticism this particular football can inspire came roughly six years ago, when my work duties took me to the city of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Some of the charms of KLCC Park, located in the heart of Kuala Lumpur
KLCC Park, in the shadow of the iconic Petronas Towers, proved to be one of my favorite "getaways" in the urban jungle that was Kuala Lumpur, or KL for short. People watching was a favorite activity: the park featured a family pool to combat the consistent heat and humidity (lying at just 3 degrees north of the equator, KL's climate is purely tropical) along with other ornamental water features to compliment the greenery within the park's borders. Often, I did this watching while knocking off several laps on the park's rubberized jogging path, a popular feature with many city residents. This area is rarely without people during the daytime regardless, with the convention center, Aquaria KLCC (a fairly substantial aquarium exhibit) and Suria KLCC (one of the nicer shopping malls in an area chock full of them) surrounding the area.

During my time there, I found the Malaysian populace in general had a widespread interest in all manner of sports. Local news coverage varied widely, with locally popular endeavors like badminton, handball (something of a combination of hockey and basketball), and squash covered alongside more familiar sports to the U.S. public such as auto racing, golf and soccer/football. Football interest was especially strong with the English Premier League teams, especially Chelsea and Manchester United.

The grounds around the Traders Hotel at KLCC Park was all
abuzz with activity during one of my walks through the area
Manchester United was a team I had at least gained some familiarity with, mainly in relation to the controversial ownership situation with American businessman Malcolm Glazer (also then owner of the National Football League's Tampa Bay Buccaneers). I had heard that the team was in town for a friendly against the Malaysia XI, essentially a team consisting of the country's better football players but not the official World Cup-competition team. I had figured home loyalties would lie with the national team, but it seemed like you couldn't walk anywhere in the city without seeing an AIG-emblazoned team jersey being sported by the locals.

My impression that the locals were more enamored with the visitors than their own football players was cemented when I came upon the team's departure from their hotel, also located on the perimeter of KLCC Park. Hundreds of star-struck fans surrounded the hotel's entrance, cheering wildly with cameras snapping away as team members filtered out into the bus that would take them to their friendly against the Malaysia XI side at Bukit Jalil National Stadium

The local fanfare that met the Manchester United team as they
left for their friendly against the Malaysia XI side.
The game, which was not an option for me due to price and logistics, turned out to be a closer-than-expected 3-2 victory for Manchester United. It was meant to as the start of four friendlies for the team throughout Asia; however, the bombing of the team's hotel in Jakarta just days before their friendly with the Indonesian national team caused team officials to cancel that leg of the tour. This led to a huge gap in time before the next game in Korea, and a quickly-arranged second game with the Malaysia XI side a couple days later was arranged. With ticket prices (available for under 20 dollars U.S.), the crowds most likely less daunting (Bukit Jalil National Stadium holds close to 90,000 people) and a willing co-worker in tow, I decided to check out my first live football match.

Some of the sights from the unexpected second friendly between
Manchester United and the Malaysia XI side
The game itself showed why Manchester United took the Premier League in the 2008-2009 season. After what had been reported as a lackluster effort in the previous game, the visiting team played crisply, getting out to a quick 2-0 lead after the first 15 minutes and missing good opportunities throughout the rest of the game. The Malaysian team had a few counter-attacking chances but were otherwise on their heels most of the game.

Absorbing the atmosphere proved to be just to be as fun as the game itself. Happening on a weekday, the crowd was a lot smaller than the originally-scheduled game on the weekend, and the 30,000 or so in attendance were swallowed by the vast expanse of the stadium. A young Malaysian child, not at all too interested in the game itself, kept my co-worker and I entertained for most of the game. 

There was also some uncertainty in the getting back. Getting to the stadium would be easy; we were taking the train down to the stadium. However, the stadium, roughly 45 minutes south of where we were staying in KL, was truly unfamiliar territory for us; there was just that certain hint of uncertainty in terms of the return trip, as we would have to flag down and grab a teksi to take us back home. 

This turned out to be where we had a chance encounter with another person traveling through Malaysia had to offer. A British-based family vacationing in the country and staying close to our hotel invited us to share the ride in their rather luxurious van-sized teksi. The resultant conversation and the cost, which we figured would have been doubled had we flagged our own ride back, made for a relaxing and relatively stress-free end to this first taste of the sport dubbed "The Beautiful Game."


Goes Up To 12: Westgate Thai

Within this unassuming market front lies some seriously
delicious Thai home cooking
While my spouse and I have been seriously upping our tolerance for heat-laden foods, we both acknowledge the king of this particular culinary talent in either of our immediate families lies with my Thai brother-in-law. One of these days on a return trip to the San Francisco Bay Area, we vow to go out to a Thai restaurant of his choosing to see whether we've moved to at least a stone's throw of his ability to handle the heat (not to mention grab some very tasty Thai eats to boot.)

Were he to venture out here to Columbus, there was a time we weren't sure we could find a Thai restaurant that could meet his standards based on our experience...that is, until we found ourselves on Columbus' west side one weekend and walked into the Westgate Import Market.

Westgate Market is truly a mom and pop business, owned by a Vietnam-era veteran and his Thai-born wife. Like many of its fellow smaller Asian markets in the Columbus area, this market stocks items centered toward a particular country or select set of countries. Not surprisingly, Westgate's products are geared toward the country of Thailand, from music CDs to household products to culinary staples and more.  If you can't find a particular Thai-oriented product here, you may not be able to find it elsewhere in the area.

The bonus aspect of this market, however, lies toward the back where you'll find a small collection of tables and chairs and a picture menu of various Thai dishes. Yes, Westgate Market also has a small restaurant space that serves up Thai specialties.

Westgate Market provides the customer not only a plethora of Thai-oriented
products, but also a menu of that country's dishes.
The "pop" portion of the market's ownership duo takes your orders, while the "mom" cooks the dishes back in the kitchen. He warned us, along with another group that had wandered in just after us, that they served their dishes on a spice scale from 1 and 12, and that most typical Americans would feel uncomfortable with anything 4 and over. Our fellow diners took that advice to heart, keeping the spice levels pretty low, but we were game for something more. Perhaps with a little wary eye from our host, we ordered our dishes at a good solid 9 on their spice scale to test the waters.

Pictures of Thai dishes also dot the paper menus at Westgate and
include such dishes like the Khao Kaphrao Khai Dao (upper left),
Spring Rolls, and the Pad Prik Khing
We started off with some nicely prepared spring rolls and then proceeded to the mains. My go-to choice at Thai restaurants is generally the Pad Prik Khing, which Westgate happily had on their menu and who am I to break with tradition? My spouse, on the other hand, took the advice of Alt Eats Columbus in their writeup of this restaurant and went with Khao Kaphrao Khai Dao, a dish we never recalled seeing at other Thai places.

As promised, our food came out with the requested heat quotient, giving us a pleasing burn that many other claimed "Thai spicy" dishes at other restaurants failed to deliver. But these creations weren't just pure heat bombs: both dishes were scrumptious, with hints of garlic, fish sauce, basil and other flavors darting within and among the dominant veggie and meat taste profiles.

Westgate's version of Pad Prik Khing was the best I've had at least in recent memory; with that said, I think my spouse's dish was actually better.

The topper to the experience are the prices, which were quite inexpensive for both the quantity and the sheer taste factor of the dishes we ordered. Our only regret at this point is now we live farther away from this part of Columbus after our recent move. Perhaps this just means my spouse and I will have to find more excuses to get down to this part of the city more often.

(Note: Westgate Market is actually owned by a Cambodian couple, who had run the uniquely combined Cambodian-Mexican eatery Lindo (the sign for which was still viewable at the time of our visit) at a prior time. The market's kitchen space has since been leased to the couple who runs Westgate Thai. Thanks to the folks at Alt Eats Columbus for the clarification!)

Westgate Thai
3201 Sullivant Ave (Westgate/Hilltop)
Columbus, OH 43204
(614) 725-5660
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Ice Cream Chronicles (Vol. 13): The Red White & Blue of The Neapolitan

Cedarville may be a bit out of the way for most, but if you happen
that way, Neapolitan has some churned frozen goodness for you
When it comes to the overall western region of Central Ohio, Cedarville is not a town most people put on their destination lists, especially with tourist-friendly Yellow Springs (the state's pint-sized version of Berkeley, California) and the greater Dayton area just farther to the west in relatively close proximity. What Cedarville does have is a proportionally large representation in the history of the U.S. Senate - both Mike DeWine (now the current state Attorney General) and James H. Kyle (considered the father of the Labor Day holiday) hail from this small town of just over 4,000 people. The town also has a fairly large education-oriented base surrounding it, being centrally located to the Baptist-oriented Cedarville University as well as two historically black colleges in nearby Wilberforce (the state-run Central State and Wilberforce University, which was founded by the African Methodist Episcopal Church.)

This wouldn't be a town you would expect to find a rather delectable, homemade take on ice cream, but that's what I found in The Neapolitan.

Located in downtown pretty much at the intersection of State Route 72 and US Route 42, The Neapolitan is marked by a simple exterior, with the subtle trail of neapolitan-oriented colors rising upward on the building's face and a cadre of wooden rockers resting in front. This theme continues inside with a similarly none-too-fancy interior. Big bags of coffee beans on the floor (more on that later in the post) and a side-freezer of full of bagged bread loaves (the clerk was not exactly sure of the bread's origin when I asked about it) provided the only non-ice-cream related items in this modestly-sized room.

Simple space, simple choices, and simply good ice cream
The Neapolitan features at least a dozen or so homemade flavors at one time which seem to cover the gamut from the simple to certain crowd-pleasers to more gourmet-like flavors (I got the impression that the flavors were subject to both seasonality as well as a bit to the whims of the owners.) Alas, Butter Pecan was not an option on this visit, so I substituted their version of Buckeye (another fairly common choice of mine) along with a scoop of Cookie Dough and their Coconut Chai. For the price ($4.50), this was quite a good deal - their ice cream texture was along the line of Graeter's french-pot prepared ice creams, and the flavors featured just the right proportion of mix-ins and ice cream.

They were all quite good, but my favorite of the three was probably the Coconut Chai, with a pleasant but not overwhelming chai flavor with the texture of coconut plentiful in each spoonful. Also notable was the Buckeye: I'm not sure if they chop up their Buckeyes before they place them in the batch, but my scoop featured one pretty substantial chunk of this regional candy favorite to bite into.

For those who wish for something a little fancier, waffle cones, milk shakes, sundaes with various toppings and handpacked pints are available for the visitor.

Ingriguingly, and perhaps not so surprisingly, the co-located Stoney Creek
Roasters a (U.S.) Presidential theme throughout its space
I found out through my chatting that The Neapolitan, now open for roughly two years, is an offshoot business of the coffee roastery next door. Stoney Creek Roasters has been providing coffee and all the usual drink variations and freshly roasted beans to the residents of the area for six years. I was able to take and enjoy my ice cream scoops inside their space, and was taken in by the overlying theme within. Intriguingly, and maybe not so surprisingly (with Ohio being the birthplace of eight U.S. presidents), Stoney Creek sported a very presidential (and even vice-presidential) theme throughout its brick-lined space.

Both businesses were fairly slow on this particular weekend day, but with the surrounding universities being on lesser-attended summer sessions, a main component of this combo cafe/ice cream parlor customer base is currently out of the area. But I suspect that's just fine with the owners of this business and the residents of the area; aside from the stray interloper like me, they get this tucked away tiny gem of a place all to themselves.

The Neapolitan/Stoney Creek Coffee Roasters
83/85 N Main St,
Cedarville, OH  45314
(937) 697-5200
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Fried Chicken Bender (Pt. 2): White House Chicken (Barberton, OH)

White House Chicken is one of several purveyors of
Barberton, Ohio's uniquely-styled fried chicken
Since my time here in Ohio, I have overheard several mentions of a regional fried chicken specialty hailing from the Northeast Ohio town of Barberton. As the story goes, European immigrants had been for many decades putting out a unique style of fried chicken that has made this town of roughly 27,000 people a culinary destination for both locals and visitors alike and earning it a reputation for some as the "Fried Chicken Capital of the World."

While intriguing, this wasn't quite enough to warrant a special trip up simply to try the chicken in my book. But as fate would have it, a recent trip to pick up a friend of ours took us into the Canton area, which would be followed by subsequent journey together to the northwest area of the state. Barberton was one of several towns perfectly situated for a sit-down lunch, and the mention of this fried chicken basically sealed the deal in terms of what we'd be eating.

Barberton currently has four separate eateries serving this specialty, and White House Chicken, with four locations around the immediate area, proved to be the most conveniently located for our travels.

White House's interior reflects the nothing-too-fancy vibe
that reflects its origins and six decades plus of existence.
While White House's space has been modified and renovated over its six decades of existence, its original modest beginnings are reflected in its interior. There is really nothing fancy about the space; the tables, chairs and booth seating are definitely from an earlier decade or three. But that seems to be just fine with the restaurant's owners - as their menu description declares, White House has "found something that works and...stuck with it."  The regulars who filed in after we did didn't seem to mind too much either; in many ways, it reminded me of a community hall, where members of an organization or group would gather on a regular basis for a home-cooked meal to celebrate some upcoming holiday or event.

White House's menu selections and sides also reflect the simplicity
with which their fried chicken is prepared
We ended up getting the regular fried chicken, chicken tenders and some fried fish fillets along with a multitude of sides for group sampling. Barberton-style chicken is essentially a Serbian variation on the fried bird. Traditionally, the bird is chopped up in smaller pieces and prepared very simply by rolling each piece in flour followed by eggs and breadcrumbs. Finally, the pieces are fried in lard. As we found out, this process results in a chicken crust that is uniquely crunchy and chewy at the same time and a juicy interior. The crust of the fish fillets also took up this texture, though to a lesser degree.

The lack of seasoning seems to be a point of division among fried chicken aficionados - some do not care for it, but for us it was fine. For me personally, it reminded me of my dad's own simple version of fried chicken, which was not breaded but rather lightly enhanced with a little bit of salt and pepper. The chicken tenders also fell into the same flavor/texture profile as well.

The menu is also pretty simple (recently instituted menu changes have alleviated some confusion in regards to the white meat/dark meat piece groupings) for diners: basically, it all depends on how much fried chicken and/or fish you want, your choice of white and/or dark meat, as well as any number of sides. Continuing the simplicity theme, the sides themselves are base-model affairs from the bread slices to the green beans and the applesauce. Their touted hot sauce (which is jarred and available for purchase) is not really spicy at all, reminding me more of rice-laden tomato soup; your enjoyment of this side will definitely vary. Perhaps the most enjoyable side for all of us was the coleslaw, texturally pleasing (chopped versus shredded cabbage) with a straight-up vinegary tang.

I'd say all fried chicken aficionados owe at least one visit to this area of Ohio to give this unique take on the dish an honest shot. Whether it's White House or one of one of the three other eateries serving this regional specialty, you can be assured that you'll be taking a bite of local history as well as a little taste of the old country.

White House Chicken
180 Wooster Rd. N
Barberton, OH 44203
330-745-0449
(Other locations in Green, Talmadge and Wadsworth)
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No Compass Needed: Explorers Club

Merion Village's Explorers Club decided one summer ago
to go back to their "Simple Pioneering Flavor" credo 
Explorers Club is a restaurant that has historic Columbus restaurant lines that both dwarf its actual time in existence as an eatery as well as easily predates my time as a Columbus-area resident (for an excellent summary of those ties, please check out this post by longtime blogger CMH Gourmand written right after the restaurant's opening in late 2011.)

It's not surprising that with four-plus years of operation, Explorers Club has become a mainstay in its Merion Village location at South High and Morrill ever since that opening. While they have had a generic Latin American leaning in terms of their offerings, this restaurant has lived up to its name in regards to its mission to explore both traditional and unique takes on various world cuisines. Indeed, it was this idea of exploration which made this restaurant a favorite of many diners (including my spouse and I) fairly early on, and their two-story brick building has been regular destination since my move out here early 2012.

But as noted in this ThisWeek News article, the restaurant's operation hasn't been without its bumps in the road. Spurred on by customers' inquiries about increasing prices as well as favorites which had disappeared off the menu in favor of not always successful, more eclectic items, Explorers Club co-founder Tracy Studer made a personally tough trimming of restaurant staff, including well-regarded chef Dan Varga.

At that time, there were plenty of questions about both Explorers Club and Chef Varga. As for Varga, he himself has moved on to more great creations at his new venue, the southern cuisine/Memphis fried chicken inspired Double Comfort in the Short North.

And Explorers Club? Well, from our viewpoint, overall things haven't changed too much, but the changes that have been implemented have been well-received.

Eclectic visual touches have always been a constant at Explorers Club
The eclectic touches both inside and outside have not changed since that summer on our visits, and the restaurant has maintained that casual, relaxed vibe that's part of this eatery's big appeal for us. Very little has changed either in regards to this eatery's offering of monthly and special nightly explorations (their Hungarian Night remains on the second Wednesday of each month, for example) into a variety of cuisines. Crowds seem as healthy as ever based on the times we have visited, and the service has remained competent and friendly.

As promised by Studer last summer, base menus seem to have been condensed into select favorites for both weekend brunch (Huevos Rancheros, Chilequiles and Cuban French Toast) and dinner (the Cubano Sandwich and Mofongo Burger) in addition to their cuisine explorations of the moment. These base items have all been sampled and enjoyed by both of us, and when we're not off exploring the cuisine of the moment, it is nice to know that these mainstays are always there. In addition, prices for all items seem to be all pretty centered around the $10 price point, give or take a few dollars depending on the dish.

With the different culinary explorations as well as chefs over the years, it's hard to name a favorite from their special menus. What we do know is that you'll have choices that range from the well-known to the more exotic - for example, their Eastern European menu in February of this year had familiar eats like latkes and pierogies, but also intriguing options like the Jajka Faszerowany (Polish Stuffed Eggs) and Bublanina (a cake of Czech origin) with apricot compote and whipped cream.

Whether its their main menu (like the chilequiles or mango beignets
here) or the monthly specials, we've been happy with pretty
much everything we've eaten at Explorers Club
A welcome new addition for the eatery has been their entry into Columbus' healthy food truck scene; their food truck is a regular presence at various area farmers markets, community events, and local craft breweries such as Seventh Son and Zauber.

Similar to other Columbus-area neighborhoods, Merion Village has had its own battles in making their area a place that can hold its own in both residential desirability (we ourselves had the area on our exploration list in terms of a new home) and visitor drawing power, especially when compared to its attractive neighbors to the north such as German Village, the Brewery District and Downtown itself. Studer himself acknowledged the challenge in the previously referred to ThisWeek News article, but is determined to keep Explorers Club an anchor for the neighborhood for many years to come.

We hope we can do our part to make that desire a reality in the form of continued regular visits to this unique area eatery.

Explorers Club
1586 South High St (Merion Village)
Columbus, OH  43207
(614) 725-0155
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8/17/2015 Update: Explorer's Club has closed their Merion Village area restaurant to focus primarily on mobile truck operations. However, a semblance of the old Merion Village location is coming in the form of a kitchen at Grandview Heights' Zauber Brewing. For more details, please consult this Columbus Business First article.


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Ice Cream Chronicles (Vol. 12): Sock Hops and Frostops

Sock Hop Soda Shop makes for a colorful presence at The Pearl Market
as well as pretty much any other venue.
Opening day at the downtown Pearl Market saw its share of pomp and circumstance, along with familiar faces and a cache of new vendors. This market has become one of my favorite places of escape from the office environment into the outdoor landscape of downtown Columbus. One of the most colorful new arrivals to the market hearkens back to a bygone era, where the ice cream soda shop was the king of the hangout joints, with a modern day twist.

Now in its second year of operation, Sock Hop Soda Shop is the brainchild of Terri Levine, who I had the pleasure of chatting with during a not-quite-so-optimal day for frozen treat consumption. Essentially, this venture into a realm of fifties nostalgia came from the meeting of two different family-based desires, according to Terri. Her grandfather Eddie had always wanted to own an ice cream parlor, while Terri herself had wanted to bring a fifties-styled diner to the city limits of Columbus. The merging of these two desires led to her establishment her business, whose main focus is catering events both small and large.

While Sock Hop offers both retro fun (hula hoop competitions are a standard occurrence at their events) along with simple diner-styled hot items (grilled cheese, hot dogs and bologna sandwiches, for example) and familiar ice cream treats, the queen of their offerings is truly the ice cream float. Here, Terri combines two longtime Central Ohio companies for her floats. Originating in Springfield, Ohio in 1926, Frostop Root Beer once had stands in all 48 states until generational trends caused it to fade away mostly into obscurity. Sock Hop Soda Shop is one of the integral parts of the brand's revival by acting as its catering arm, providing exposure for the soda's current flavors (along with root beer, Frostop produces retro-styled flavors such as sarsaparilla, orange and cream, and red birch.)

Along with hot food items and familiar frozen confections, Sock Hop
Soda Shop combines two long-time based Central Ohio vendors
(Frostop Soda and Velvet Ice Cream) for its ice cream floats
The other half of that float belongs to Utica's venerable Velvet Ice Cream; the Dager family's product, which last year reached its landmark 100th anniversary, is used exclusively by Terri and her crew. In a nice bit of fortune for her company, Terri's Sock Hop Soda Shop trucks have been designated official Velvet Ice Cream rental trucks for your events of choice.

Now I have a confession - I have a very touchy relationship with root beer and similar-styled products. Traditionally, root beer is something I do not enjoy and my first bout with traditional sarsaparilla (encountered at the formerly-held Forage SF's Underground Market) was a rather unpleasant one. However, had something of a reconsideration when I found myself enjoying Rambling House Soda's version of sarsaparilla, and I figured I can't not try the signature product of a business. Thus, with hula-hoopers practicing their sway in anticipation next to us, I went for the root beer float.

This may be the only time I have a root beer float for lunch, but I found myself highly enjoying it as I listened to Terri continue with her story, from her ties to California to recent events they've catered and discussion about her grandfather. In fact, Sock Hop's newest vehicle, which can be seen at the Pearl Market, is nicknamed in tribute to him. Another fun little secret about the vehicle lies in the phrase "Service With A Twist" on the side: besides the nod to retro fads like hula hoops and the dance of the same name, the vehicle actually was a SWAT police vehicle in its previous life that was both lightly used and a perfect fit for her business.

Terri's expressed fortune in finding that vehicle was perhaps the most memorable part of my conversation with her and representative of where she stood in life at the moment: this was someone who was working hard, but feeling fortunate to be not only doing but also enjoying what she was doing. And it involves ice cream to boot - kinda' hard to beat that, right?

Terri's got a tasty ice cream float ready for you

Sock Hop Soda Shop
At the Downtown Pearl Market
(Tues & Fri 11 AM - 2 PM)
and other privately catered and public events
(614) 975-0081
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Takeout Pizza of the Month: Pizza House

Opened up in 1961, Columbus institution Pizza House keeps chugging
along in the somewhat hidden Salem Village neighborhood
Keeping with my intention to do a takeout pie/cold pizza test from a previously untried Columbus-area pizza place roughly once a month, my attention turned to a Columbus institution in the Salem Village-located Pizza House on East Lincoln Avenue.

Atmosphere: Established in 1961, Pizza House is considered a Columbus institution with its Columbus-styled thin-crusted, square-cut pizza. As I pulled in and tried to get a gander of the place, I quickly saw many people walking out of the carry out door with pizzas-to-go. Considering that this was later in the evening on a day I wouldn't expect a brisk takeout pizza business, I took this as a very good sign we would be getting something tasty soon.

Pizza House has two separate doors for carry out and for the main dining area. A quick glance at the main dining area in the carry out area showed this main dining space in all its 1960-era glass-block glory. The carry out area itself is visually interesting, with numerous media clippings touting Pizza House's great tasting pies as well as governmental proclamations congratulating the business on reaching their 50th anniversary. Other than pizza, Pizza House offers a variety of subs and sandwiches as well as Italian standards such as lasagna and ravioli. Gluten-free versions of their baked ravioli and small-sized (10") pizzas are also now available.

A peek at the glass-block nirvana that is Pizza House's dining room
plus some of the sights you'll see in their carryout area
Pizza (hot): We decided on our first visit here, we should go with the "pizza that started it all" and go with their "All The Way", basically a piled-high everything pizza with an option to use substitute their "old-world pepperoni" for their regular version (of course, we took this option.)

I noticed a good heft to the box when I carried it out of the restaurant, and we we got it home, we found that Pizza House wasn't kidding when they said "piled high." The old-world pepperoni provided a slightly different a slightly saltier and chewier profile than the typical variety.

The "All The Way" lived up to the name, full of delicious toppings
The pizza was plain and simply scrumptious, and the large size meant plenty of leftovers for the next day's lunch.

Pizza (cold): Pizza House's pizza isn't quite as enjoyable in its cold form compared to others I have had, I discovered. Nothing specific really (it wasn't like it was inedible) - perhaps it was the sheer level of toppings that hindered its cold pizza potential. Whatever the case, I think leftover slices of this pie are best popped in the oven for a good reheating.

Future Visits: Pizza House has definitely made our select consideration takeout pizza list, especially when we're not in the mood to think about it too hard, and definitely look forward to sampling their other pies.

Pizza House
747 E Lincoln Ave (North Side/Salem Village)
Columbus, OH 43229
(614) 885-3121
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You Get In Line, I'll Get A Bowl: Dinner Lab's Clash of the Crawfish

Ferocious crawfish were no match for hungry humans in
Dinner Lab's Clash of the Crawfish
When Dinner Lab, an organization based out of New Orleans that specializes in communal pop-up dinners with area chefs, announced it was coming to Columbus, it sounded intriguing enough to me to plunk down the special introductory membership fee. Back in California, pop-up dinners were increasingly the rage just as I was setting foot for the Buckeye State, and had always thought it would be cool to drop in on one of these types of events.

While this particular pop-up dinner isn't surprising to me given the organization's Louisiana roots, I am a little surprised that my first event I would attend would be their nationwide "Clash of the Crawfish" event. I don't normally go out of my way to sample shelled water-dwelling creatures in general.

Well, perhaps less surprised when you consider my spouse's reaction when I mentioned this upcoming event: Ooohcrawfishboilyeswe'regoing! (or something quite similar.) My spouse was introduced to the concept of a crawfish boil during her days as a grad student down in the Houston, Texas area (which has a fairly substantial Cajun-Creole culinary presence) and had been itching to do something similar ever since she came back to Ohio.

Dishes were served one at a time, and the adult beverages (with beer from
Louisiana-based brewer Abita) along with the long-table seating and venue
(the train-oriented The Depot) helped encourage interaction between diners.
As previously mentioned, Dinner Lab's events are meant to encourage interaction among diners, and the setup on this pop-up dinner helped. The long tables helped group people together, and as we found out, people who tend to go in on a concept such as this seemed to be more inclined to chat naturally. Our conversations with those seated around us revealed a native of Louisiana, a veterinarian in our new city of residence, and a fellow alumna of my spouse's graduate school among our table mates.

The Depot's train-oriented event setting was both a nostalgic
backdrop for the event and a natural conversation starter
Our event venue, announced a day before the dinner as is the typical Dinner Lab parlance, turned out to be The Depot, a rail museum in Northwest Columbus off Old Henderson geared to hosting group events and dinners. Diners were free to roam around and explore the various pieces of railroad memorabilia placed throughout the property, including the original depot established in Brice, Ohio in the 1880s, a one-third-scale train (that was not running during our dinner, alas) that can actually haul visitors around the property. Various rail cars were also scattered throughout the property, each with its own history and open for visitation by Dinner Lab diners. Perhaps the most visited rail car of the day was Car 100: this passenger car, which served as the venue's main backdrop throughout the day, was in its former life the home for VIP employees, performers and guests of Ringling Brothers Circus in the late 1800s into the early 1900s.

The luxurious Car 100, used by Ringling Brothers Circus during the turn
of the 20th century, was a popular place to visit for Dinner Lab patrons
Oh, yeah, what about the food? As Dinner Lab staff who were attendance stated during the event, with the lone exception of a tremendous corn panna cotta (featuring sweet potato gingersnap and toasted pecan with a hint of lemon oil), the dinner was meant as a nod to tradition and an acknowledgment of their roots in The Bayou State. The other dishes, from the Kitchen Sink Gumbo to the German Potato Salad to, of course, the crawfish boiled with corn, sausage and "fixins", were all traditionally prepared with nothing too extravagant in terms of flavor profiles or variations.

Being both the first ever crawfish boil and the first time I have EVER had crawfish, I decided to go for the gusto. It took a little bit of time before I got my eating technique (described on Dinner Lab's menus as "Pick A Winner/Grab That Sucker/Twist and Snap/Pinch Peel and Eat") more or less mastered, but once I did, I held my own in downing my share, even sucking the juices out of the head sections. However, there really was no keeping up with my spouse, who was in crawdad nirvana, or many of the gathered lovers of these little river creatures.

The dishes at Clash of the Crawfish were all quite tasty and, save
for the Panna Cotta, were nods to traditional crawfish boil dishes
Our first batch of crawdads seemed to have not quite enough time in the boil spice-wise; our Louisiana native at the table thought them pretty mild as did we. However, this was rectified with the second tray, with a much more pleasing spice level.. All dishes in general were all well-prepared and, when taken with the experience in total, and the adult beverages (craft beer from Louisiana-brewer Abita and an assortment of wine) were the perfect accompaniment.

Dinner Lab's "Clash of the Crawfish" turned out to be a fun, worthwhile experience. We look forward to sampling more of their Columbus-area offerings in the future.

Dinner Lab
Company specializing in private and pop-up dinner events for members
Presently in over 30 U.S. cities, including Columbus and Cleveland, Ohio
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The Depot Rail Museum & Event Center
921 Old Henderson Rd (Northwest)
Columbus, OH
(614) 324-5945
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