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It Takes A Convoy: The Columbus Mobile Food Conference and Expo

One of the nicer finds since moving to the Columbus area has been seeing how vibrant the food truck scene here is. I saw this aspect as a strength of the San Francisco Bay Area, my former stomping grounds. This area has had a well-established scene dating back to the 1980s with the Oakland-based taco trucks, complemented later by the new wave of food trucks from the late 2000s onward inspired by the success of folks like Los Angeles-based Kogi BBQ, This has led to such ventures such as the very popular Off The Grid food truck venues which now ring the area.

From the latest info I was able to gather from Street Eats Columbus and The Metropreneur, the metro area has roughly 40 traditional taco trucks and roughly 100 food truck owners overall. I have had plenty of tasty experiences with many of these mobile food vendors, and have enjoyed their presence at many area festivals, events, and mobile-vendor-specific events like the weekly Columbus Commons Food Truck Food Court and the annual Columbus Food Truck Festival.

However, I admit that when I got the invite from Mike Gallicchio for a pass to the first ever Columbus Mobile Food Conference, I thought long and hard as to whether it would be worth it from my little corner of the food universe. As a local blogger who leans a lot toward the local food and beverage scene in my write-ups, my viewpoint is almost always from the end user (or is it that end-devourer) point of view rather than the process that got the food item to the end user stage. Upon closer inspection, the seminars offered seemed to be highly geared to either those already in the business or wanting to get in the business, nothing that would be in the cards for me outside of a hit-the-Powerball-now-I'm-bored-what-should-I-do-now lark. However, a talk with a colleague of mine convinced me essentially of the old adage of "nothing ventured, nothing gained", and I happily took the invite.

Columbus Coffee Chronicles (Vol. 1): Colin's Coffee

My recent experience on Columbus Food Adventures' Coffee Tour made me realize that with a couple of notable exceptions (Cafe Brioso and One Line Coffee), I've probably covered more out-of-the-area coffee houses than the locally-based ones on this blog. I figure this time is as good a time to catch up a bit with a mini-series of blog posts, and the first one ought to be my very first encounter with the city's coffee scene. As it turned out, it was also my first encounter with the city's music scene.

Back in the day, my pursuit of my running passion was just starting to mature. The combination of the love of this hobby that most people think of as punishment brought me into contact via the Internet with a group of fellow runners and friends from around the country. Aside from our online exchanges, we arranged meetups around the country for some in-person camaraderie, running, and good food and libations throughout. This included a meetup in Cincinnati, which hosts the well organized and festive Flying Pig Marathon every May.

Despite never having traveled within the Buckeye State's borders ever before, I was tasked with driving from Cincinnati to pick up my roommate for the weekend from the Columbus airport (the cost of flying into Cincy for him was cost-prohibitive; I was only able to do it myself by using frequent flyer miles.) As it turned out, the trip to pick him up was fairly easy enough (mostly Interstate routes) but my trip back would end up with an added destination.

One of our running colleagues bragged of an incredible musician in the Columbus area named Colin Gawel, whose band she would always go to see whenever they toured around her part of the country. She added that he owned a coffee store in the area, and that I should drop by and visit him. Moreover, she claimed Gawel had an incredible memory, and that he would recognize her should I drop her name to him.

Back in those days, I was not anywhere close to being a regular coffee drinker, but her story was too good not to check out.

Just Another Flight (of tasty) Beer: JAFB Wooster Brewery (Wooster, OH)

JAFB Wooster is Cleveland Browns territory for certain, but it also
is the home for some respectably tasty, award-winning beers
A recent trip pursuing one of our new favorite pastimes for my spouse and I (antique hunting) brought us to the US-30 corridor right where it intersects with I-71 towards Cleveland. The hunting proved to be pretty good as we dug up some fairly unique finds at decent prices, and these ventures into unexplored (for us, anyway) parts of the state finished up in Wooster, a town of roughly 25,000 people named after Revolutionary War general David Wooster.

We had thoughts of dropping by the town's lone brewery, JAFB Wooster, after our day's hunting was over provided we weren't too tuckered out. However, the shopkeeper of the last antique store erased any doubts in our mind, as she gave her thumbs up to going and was more than happy to give us driving directions to their taproom, located just to the east of the main downtown area.

One thing that stood out immediately to us was the unique name of this brewery, and it was one of our first inquiries after we ordered our beer. As we found out from one of the bartenders that day, it came from struggle that JAFB brewmaster Paul Fryman had in finding a name for his new enterprise. A colleague of Fryman, perhaps in a little bit of exasperation over the delay, stated that the venture was "just another f______ brewery" (you can probably guess what word that starts with "f" was used.) That phrase inspired the acronym that became the name of his brewery, which opened its taproom doors to the public in 2012.

Larking For A Good Cause: Guest DJ at CD102.5

Confirmation, notes, and other important info for a guest DJ stint
In many ways, radio has gone the way of other old-school media forms like television and newspaper. Once the only game in town for miles around, radio has run up against competing forms of media, especially with the rise of the internet. In addition, the way music has reached the listening public has diversified, sucking away the listeners and the corresponding advertisement dollars.

This has lead to consolidation within the radio market. Indeed, it is hard not to hear a radio station identification on the hour without entities like Clear Channel, Cumulus or Disney being mentioned. In California, some of the stations I grew up listening to or learning about (The Quake KQAK or Los Angeles' KROQ) are now part of corporate entities for the most part. Numerous mom and pop-styled operations also now broadcast over that very same Internet, due to its relatively lesser cost.

From listening to those stations, I became involved a couple decades or so ago (both as a deejay and the news division) with a completely independent format station back in college (I'm happy to say my former home forges onward more strongly than ever, with even more antenna wattage and an actual record label promoting local music to its name.) Numerous sessions in the listening room to prepare for shows were invaluable in expanding my knowledge of music styles I had been unfamiliar with prior such as reggae, folk and hardcore. Only a huge case of "broke-ass-college-student" syndrome kept my record collection modest, but I am happy with what I was able to get my hands on during those halcyon days.

Falafel of the Cultured: Pita Hut -N- Grille

The term "Drunk Food" is title given to certain munchies that bring a certain hallowed yet love/hate relationship with those who consume them. With cravings more often brought on by the consumption of certain intoxicating substances (which may or may not be legal depending on your age and jurisdiction), these food items, which generally are nowhere near haute cuisine, sound like great ideas at the time, or perhaps are traditions that are built up over many years. These items almost always taste wonderful at the time of consumption. And one prays before they go to sleep for the night that your digestive system won't hate you the morning afterward for having consumed said items.

The Mediterranean-styled street food offerings of Pita Hut -N- Grille seem to fall into that category by default: this quaint takeout-oriented shop is conveniently located to Clintonville institution Bob's Bar, which nattily calls itself the "Cultural Hub of the Midwest." For the casual passer-by, it would be easy to assume that the offerings here fall into that digestive-system-beware category as well.

Columbus Food Adventures' Coffee Tour

The Columbus Food Adventures Coffee Tour is definitely
worth keeping an eye out for when it is scheduled.
I have been a big fan of Columbus Food Adventures (CFA) and the myriad of culinary-oriented tours they provide of the area's metro scene. In fact, my spouse and I have been on enough of them to fill out one of the culinary passports they give tour-goers at the end of excursion entitling you to a free tour, and we are most definitely looking forward to scheduling that in the near future.

While organizing my computer files recently, I just realized that the latest tour we took with CFA, the Coffee Tour, was one I had not written about. Although it has been a couple months since this early December tour, I did want to write up a little something on it because, similar to previous tours with them, we along a friend of ours from out of town very much enjoyed this excursion.

I will start by saying this is one of CFA's more unique tours in that it covers one very specific item: coffee. This one item, however, has gained Columbus' renown for over the past few years. The coffee-oriented website Sprudge listed Columbus in its 2014 "5 Underrated Coffee Cities" and local roaster Crimson Cup was designated "2016 Macro Roaster of the Year" by industry magazine Roast. The coffee scene has also become a tourist attraction as well, with the folks at Experience Columbus creating the Columbus Coffee Trail that provides out-of-town java enthusiasts a fun way to seek out the area's best caffeinated concoctions.

The Columbus High Gravity Hullabaloo 2016

The perfectly-sized souvenir tasting glass given to this year's Hullabaloo goers
My spouse and I had the pleasure of attending our first ever High Gravity Hullabaloo, an event hosted by the Columbus Craft Beer Alliance (CCBA) this last Saturday, February 6th.

The CCBA, which touts itself as a non-profit organization "with the mission to promote and support Columbus area breweries" on its website, has hosted numerous events to support this cause, including the inaugural "Beer and Donuts" event at the newly opened Four String facility on the west side of Columbus.

The Hullabaloo is currently CCBA's longest running event. Touted as a celebration of "Strong Beers and Smoked Meats', this now three-year-old gathering has paralleled the growth rate of craft beer in both Columbus and the state of Ohio overall. Starting with the inaugural 2014 Hullabaloo with twelve total breweries (with ten from the metro area), 2016's version sported just over 30 breweries, with representation from all corners of the state from such breweries like Rhinegeist and Madtree (Cincinnati), Warped Wing (Dayton), The Brew Kettle (Strongsville) and Catawba Island (Port Clinton.)  In another sign of growth, the venue changed from its original Grandview location to the former location of the Byers Chevrolet dealership in Franklinton.

We have not been to a bigger beer-oriented event since last year's Columbus Winter Beerfest, but we took our lessons learned there to heart. With most of the beers in the double-digit ABV-range, pacing would be important, and the souvenir glass provided to all Hullabaloo goers proved to be the perfect size for sampling. Also, we made a commitment to change up the taste palate as much as possible, which proved to be a perfect strategy, as it would have been easy for me to go with my tendencies toward stouts and porters. Finally, we both had goals of trying breweries that either aren't as readily available here or new/new-to-us. Sometimes, though, old favorites are hard to resist.

Mo's Bagels, Mo' Munching: Izzy & Mo's Luncheonette

The offerings at Izzy and Mo's Luncheonette harks back to
owner Magdiale Wolmark's Jewish upbringing in Philadelphia. 
I'll admit to being very late to the bagel game; in fact, I didn't have any concept as to what a bagel even was I was well into my college years. And like many who were long-time residents of the Bay Area, my first regular go-to place for such an item lay in Noah's Bagels, essentially the west coast branch of the Einstein Bros. Bagels chain. Their bready constructs were perfectly fine slathered with cream cheese or as a quick breakfast sandwich, but I learned eventually that these were nothing like the traditional and fabled versions available in cities like Montreal and New York.

I have not had a bagel from either of those metro areas, but I've found that Columbus has a pretty solid core of local bagel purveyors. We've utilized the awesome home delivery service of Sammy's New York Bagels (my spouse, who has had the real deal in New York, says they do about as close a rendition as you can get here in Columbus.) quite a bit, and we have also enjoyed the varieties offered from the East Columbus based Block's. The unique gourmet variations from the farmers market oriented Companion Baking have also proven to be a worthy culinary pursuit. And recently, the choices have grown more diverse with the recent arrival of Izzy and Mo's Luncheonette, the latest venture from Till Restaurant owners/husband & wife team Magdiale Wolmark and Cristin Austin.

Finding Its Level: Russian River Brewing Company (Santa Rosa, CA)

Maybe, maybe one day, the brews of Russian River Brewing, based in Santa Rosa, California, will match the distribution of other well known craft beer purveyors like Chico, California-based Sierra Nevada, or even Bend, Oregon's Deschutes Brewing (who made their Ohio debut early in 2014.) Maybe, maybe one day, co-owners/husband and wife team Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo would make beer drinkers like my spouse and I extremely happy (or is that hoppy?) by having bottles of their Pliny the Elder Double IPA next to Columbus' Brewing Bodhi (the latter a soon to be reality, from the rumors I hear) and whatever other favorite IPA you can think of in the cooler next to each other, at the ready for a impromptu beer taste comparison.

But for a brewery that is already operating at full capacity with limited distribution and no immediate expansion plans, with an added dose of cult status (related mainly to the hype generated by their Pliny the Younger Triple IPA) mixed in, Russian River Brewing, like the waters of its namesake river (which for the most part remains unchecked by flood control measures) has found its own unique and highly sought level in the craft beer world.

No one, not even the Cilurzos themselves, would have predicted this back in 2002, when Vinnie was laid off from the original Russian River Brewery, a venture by a champagne maker (Korbel) to forge into the craft beer world. Rather than take a financial severance, Cilurzo asked only for (and received) the rights to the brewery name, logo, and the name rights to its line of production beers.

After money was raised for all the necessary brewing equipment, the brewery was reborn in downtown Santa Rosa in 2004 with a commitment to doing things in their own unassuming way. Things progressed steadily from there, until proclamations by beer review sites like BeerAdvocate and Ratebeer put the brewery's Pliny the Younger as one of, if not the best, beers in the whole wide world. Achieving cult status certainly was not the Cilurzos' intent when Younger was first brewed in 2005 as a winter seasonal beer (they are still reportedly uncomfortable with the whole notion) but this brew now has it in spades, promoting much discussion among aficionados about whether this brew could possibly live up to the hype it has generated and pushing the brewery itself to unforeseen heights.