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Ice Cream Chronicles - New Interactive Map

As you may have noticed, a new interactive Google Map containing all the location and links to all my Ice Cream Chronicles posts is now acce...

Break The Chains of Love: A Look At "Best Of" Lists (Part 3: Columbus's Counterparts)

The Tech Museum Of Innovation in San Jose, CA, our first of ten cities
we compare with Columbus in regard to "Best Of" lists
In Part 1 of this "Chains on "Best Of" Lists" series of blog posts, we looked at how Columbus locals voted on various media-based polls, and in Part 2, we compared and contrasted Columbus's "Best Of" lists to those produced in the four largest cities in the Buckeye State.

Well, it only seemed right to continue the progression to its logical conclusion. How do cities that are Columbus's counterparts in terms of population size chime in on their local "Best Of" polls?  The selecting was pretty easy: I took 2015 population statistics and took the five cities ranked just above and just below Columbus (I used the list found on Politifact for my numbers, which at the time of this post dated to 2015) and found a the best "Best Of" list that I could find.

In many ways, the look at these ten cities kind of cemented my initial thoughts I posted on the first blog post looking at Columbus's reader poll list.  While Columbus wasn't alone in the questionable nods to chains as "Best Of" category, the fact that it did and has happened in the past shows that improvement is there to be had.

With that said, the right kind of outsider chain love can be a good thing: the arrival of Chicago's Giordano's and its stuffed deep dish pizzas was eagerly anticipated, and there is growing anticipation related to the arrival of Akron-based Swenson's Drive-In. And if you look at Seattle's polls, three of their "outsider" chains would be great additions to any scene, including here in Columbus.

Break The Chains of Love: A Look At "Best Of" Lists (Part 2: Ohio in the House)

The Art-Deco style "Guardians of Traffic" totems provide an
eye-catching sight for those on Cleveland's Hope Memorial Bridge.
As noted in my previous post, a news story on Taco Bell being named this country's "Best Mexican Restaurant" gave me a story idea about "Best Of" lists and how often outside-the-area chains appear on these lists.  Part 1 of my series  focused on three local Columbus-based reader polls from some of the major media sources here, where I found a decent amount of chain love, including a couple of head-scratchers that named P.F. Chang's as "Best Asian" and Chipotle as "Best Burrito."

It only seemed natural that Part 2 of the series would stay within the Buckeye State and focus in on Columbus's largest state neighbors. Would we find similar results in cities of similar stature (namely, Cleveland and Cincinnati) or cities of more modest size (Dayton and Toledo)?  As you might have judged from the picture above, we're going to start with a city that has gained quite a bit of prominence in the national scene in Cleveland and work counterclockwise from there.

Break The Chains of Love: A Look At "Best Of" Lists (Part 1: The Locals)

With a new location in Pittsburgh, the popular Columbus-based Condado
now rates as a small but growing restaurant chain.
Certainly, a few eyebrows were raised when most media outlets reported that Taco Bell was voted as this country's Best Mexican Restaurant for 2018. Discounting the fact that only six restaurant chains were eligible for this voting category, and that the actual designation was "Brand of the Year", the "Best Of" list is pretty a common thing you'll hear in the news, from nationwide media powerhouses down to the small town publications that you might find in the clutter of the local coffee house.

While these lists feature everything from businesses, events and even celebrities, one thing pretty much universal in these lists is a food and drink element. While sometimes it's strictly limited to the opinions of the publishing staffs, most of these "Best Of" lists have a vox populi element, where the public can put in their proverbial two cents into the process.

Unsurprisingly, Columbus is a metro area large enough to have several such "Best Of" lists, and unsurprisingly, these lists have a large food and drink component to them. And in certain cases, the ultimate winners of various poll categories have caused some consternation and head-shaking among certain readers, especially when a chain restaurant is nominated for the top spot.

Ice Cream Chronicles (Year 5): Four Scoops Along State Route 3

Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, the 1879-built
Wayne County Courthouse stands proudly in downtown Wooster.
Although the completion of Interstate 71 through Ohio didn't officially finish up until 1975, the freeway had usurped State Route 3 as the major route used to travel between Ohio's "Big C" cities years prior. However, the gains in terms of travel time for the new freeway sacrificed some of that bucolic countryside charm and small town atmosphere of its parallel highway neighbor, which was first established by state officials back in 1923.

On a recent travel day along Route 3, with summer heat and humidity in full effect outside, it was probably no surprise that ice cream quickly rose to the forefront of my mind. And considering the brutal conditions, it was probably no surprise that I double double dipped this day.

Signs of the Times: A Little Downtown Columbus Restaurant History

LeVeque Tower provides a lovely backdrop for this pathway along the
Scioto Mile, a green space respite from the concrete of downtown Columbus
In the course of everyday life, even the simple things can your day go better. In terms of Downtown Columbus, something that initially was quite helpful early in my orientation to this area has slowly become a curious combination of light annoyance and culinary history.  But as I recently discovered, signs of change (or is it changes in signs) are on the horizon.

The Old Man and the C(offee): Hemingway's Coffee Nook

Part of the Poindexter Village staircase mural at the
Columbus Metropolitan Library, as depicted by renowned
local artist Animah Robinson
Depending on your particular likings, your high school English class was either right in your vocabulary zone or something you dreaded during the school week. It may surprise you to find out that as a regular blogger the past four-plus years, I had a middling attitude toward English class, especially in comparison to things like science- and math-related classes, which I was far more enthusiastic about back then.

This middling attitude could be swung drastically in either direction if we were venturing into novels and literature. I came to dread novels from William Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald, while books from George Orwell and John Steinbeck were guaranteed page-turners for me. Then there was the vast middle of works which were more shrug-inducing than anything, such as the numerous plays of Shakespeare or the stories of Ernest Hemingway.

I admit I don't read too much of that type of literature these days, but at the very least the notion of Hemingway has evolved from the middling to the desirable, at least when it comes to coffee.

Hole Foods and Jim-nastics: Weekend in Butler County (Pt. 3)

(As noted in my previous two posts, our trip to Butler County was sponsored by the Butler County Visitors Bureau. Our immense thanks go to them for hosting us; all opinions on the places we visited are ours alone.)

The Homer Price Doughnut Machine, located on the east side of
Municipal Brew Works, is part of a mural dedicated to Hamilton-based
illustrator/writer Robert McCloskey
Donuts....I mean, come on, who doesn't like donuts?

When I heard that the Butler County Visitors Bureau was launching a Donut Trail in 2016, I thought that was a pretty novel idea that they heard from somewhere. Except here, this doesn't appear to be the case at all; when I tried to find another similar promo on the Internet, I found basically a big old (donut) hole.

Yes, you have all manner of trails around the country: the Columbus Ale Trail is but one of many adult beverage trails around the country; an ice cream trail tempts you both in New Hampshire and close to home here in Hilliard; buffalo wings provide the heat in (where else?) Buffalo, NY; and a Green Chile and a Boudin trail give you a delicious direction in New Mexico and Southwest Louisiana, respectively.

The promo appears to be a perfect fit too, as Butler County is said to have more donut shops per capita than anywhere else in the country. So yes, we were absolutely, positively, without a doubt going to explore at least a portion of this dozen-strong sweet treat contingent before we left.

Brews and 'Ques Deluxe: Weekend in Butler County (Pt. 2)

(As noted in my previous post, our trip to Butler County was sponsored by the Butler County Visitors Bureau. Our immense thanks go to them for hosting us; all opinions on the places we visited are ours alone.)

A statue of Alexander Hamilton straddles High Street in downtown Hamilton
We are already fans of the Marriott hotel chain from our previous travel experiences: we have found their service to be solid and their beds uniformly comfortable across all brands. The Butler County Visitors Bureau put us up in their Courtyard location in downtown Hamilton for the weekend, and this experience turned out to be as good as any others we've had with them.

Added bonuses include this hotel's central location for all things Butler County as well as its location right across the street from Municipal Brew Works, a place we detailed in this previous blogpost. We took our trip one week before their first anniversary celebration, but if our down moment visits during our stay are any indication (lots of foot traffic and solid brews across the board), they'll have plenty more anniversaries to celebrate.

The Towns Where It Happens: Weekend in Butler County (Pt. 1)

A lovely sunset greeted us on our first night of travels through Ohio's Butler County
Confession: when the Butler County Visitors Bureau offered to host my spouse and I for a weekend exploring this county nestled just north of Cincinnati, I was a little nervous.

Granted, I had relayed the things we typically like to pursue so the Bureau could put together an agenda, but this was a complete change from the norm for me. Ever since we started traveling together, I was pretty much the de facto vacation planner. I asked my spouse for input, but generally speaking she trusted my instincts in terms of the places we would like to visit, see, and eat at.

When we received the agenda, I was pleasantly surprised. Many of the places we would've sought out together were on there, with one or two "Oh, nice, I would've never sussed that out" destinations. Overall, the staff at the Visitors Bureau did a fine job of planning a great weekend for us, and we're incredibly thankful to them for inviting us out.

Evolution of a Mission: Mission Coffee

When Mission Coffee opened up in October of 2012 in the Short North, they had joined a coffee scene whose quality and general public awareness was under the radar to most folks outside the immediate area. Things have changed immensely since that debut for Mission and the Columbus coffee scene, however. Slowly but surely, the quality of the Columbus coffee scene has received notice on a national scale, as exampled by this March 2018 article by USA Today

Add in an appealing incentive in the Columbus Coffee Experience, a coffee trail featuring some of the best area coffee purveyors, as well as by an influx of new roasters such as Florin, Ramble and Bacca joining established members like Thunderkiss, Stauf's and Crimson Cup in creating a wealth of beans for the local consumer to sample, and you have the definition of a burgeoning scene. In its own right, Mission has tapped into this momentum to become one of the city's best coffee experiences.

Columbus Pizza-politan Adventures: Well, It Got Better...

I swear my pizza tasted like a newt! A newt?! 
Well, it got better... (all credit to the Graham Chapman & Monty Python)
If you're like most pizza lovers, you've had your share of dreadful pie in your lifetime, and like many, your experiences were dictated by economics. Some recent reminiscing brought me back to my college days and one of my most memorable (in a bad way) go-to cheap delivery pizzas. These pizzas, which came laden with a thin, tinny tomato sauce, grayish sausage, and slivers of something resembling pepperoni, were so soggy and floppy that you had to roll the slices up or risk planting that motley collection of toppings all over your chest.

In the spirit of that reminiscing, I decided last month that I would go back to some of those bad pizza pie roots, but with a twist: my choices would be two chain places that had earned a reputation as some of the worst mass-consumed pie options around, but reversed their downturn in fortune by essentially exchanging each other's menu focus.

A Blogoversary with a Twist

If this blog could eat the four cupcakes from Kittie's Cakes in celebration of
its fourth year anniversary, I'd let it.  But since it can't, I'll strive to do it myself
Well, four years are in the book for this blog, and suffice it to say it continues to chug along quite nicely. Stats are kind of boring, so I'll keep this section short and to the point. The blog continues at roughly two posts per week, we reached 1,000 Instagram followers at the end of 2017, and the combined road- and air-trip miles for us ended up close to 10,000 total, including at good quarter of those spent on a nicely epic seven-state excursion to catch the Great American Eclipse of 2017.

I had thought doing something similar to last year in posting some pictures from last year's adventures that didn't make the blog. However, a current saga from a local personality in combination with a picture I came across from what seems like many moons ago gave me the notion that this shouldn't be a typical blogoversary post.

Let Your Fingers Do The Eating: Bonifacio's APAHM Kamayan

Subo (Su-bo; Tagalog) - Verb
1. sumubo', isubo' (-um:i-) to get into trouble. 
2. to feed or put food into the mouth

Subo - that was a word I was quite familiar with as a child, more so the second meaning than the first. Often times, it was a request from my parents, grandparents, or other adult relatives, who wanted me to feed younger members of the family whose focus was intent on playing, not eating. This was fraught with its own dangers: catching one of my younger siblings or cousins was not unlike grabbing a chicken in its pen at times, and spilled food and liquids on the floor were fairly common.

Another implied meaning of this word for me lay in the method of feeding. For all but the youngest, feeding involved using my fingers to grab just the right-sized morsel to fit inside the target's mouth. Often times, that target would be my own mouth, and this process felt natural and instinctive to me.

Brews and 'Ques: That's Unusually Dank, Roscoe

The downtown-located Coshocton Clerk of Courts Building
After our jaunt for antiques in downtown Coshocton at the Coshocton Antique Mall and some fine German brews at the very appealing Wooly Pig Farmhouse Brewery, we figured it was time to grab some food for lunch. And in less time than it takes to tell, we found something quite unusual down the road that did the trick.

Unusual Junction would fit right in along the famed Route 66, where the lore of the road trip and automobile mix with a sense of nostalgia and occasionally just a touch of cheesy goodness.  As it stands, this attraction resides along Ohio's US 36 as if it were dropped from the sky. Drivers can thank the McKenna family from Cleveland, whose patriarch Jerry purchased this farmland in the early 1970s.

Brews and 'Ques: A Wooly Good Day in Coshocton

Two faded advertisements fight for the notice of passers-by
on the side of this downtown Coshocton building
It turns out the modestly-sized town of Coshocton, where the Walhonding and Tuscawaras Rivers merge into the Muskingum, at its largest was never more than 15,000 people in population. Despite its size, this town has brought forth a few surprises from within its borders, including being the birthplace of the modern promotional company  (Novelty Advertising Company was the first) as well as the birthplace of Steve Earle's favorite stalk-ee in alt-country artist Lydia Loveless.

So on a recent weekend with the urge to roam a bit and some time had passed since our last Brews and 'Ques venture, we decided it was time to pay this part of Ohio a visit for the first time ever.

The Even Better CCBW Cheat Sheet: Volume 2 (05/16 - 05/19/2018)

Well, Columbus's Craft Beer Week seems to be off to a fine start, with plenty of fun events and one stalwart person already completing the latest edition of the Columbus Ale Trail. We personally found ourselves at a few events, including The Daily Growler's Infusapalooza and a rare tapping of some Cantillon Beers at the Winking Lizard Tavern and Lizardville, located right next to each other on Polaris Blvd. in Westerville.

The Ultimate CCBW Cheat Sheet: Volume 1 (05/11 through 05/15/2018)

As late as 2014, Columbus didn't have a Craft Beer Week to call its own
Amazing little factoid I'd like to share to you: by sheer chance in 2014, my wife and I stumbled into the first ever craft beer week for Greenville, South Carolina.  This fairly modest city of just over 60,000 people at the time hosted 20+ beer events that year, and we had a good time wandering around and trying out the craft wares of the area.

By contrast, Columbus, a city of more than 14 times Greenville's population and several times more breweries, had yet to have such a week to call its own.

Well, things have changed for certain: Columbus Craft Beer Week (CCBW) launched in 2015 and hasn't looked back since. Buoyed by an ever growing numbers (well over forty are projected to be operational by the end of his year), a highly successful corresponding Columbus Ale Trail promotion (more than 2,300 people earned the truly cool paddle and flight glass combo from 2017's version), and enthusiastic public support, I would say that CCBW has been a smashing success.

Never Too Many Cooks in The Kitchen Columbus

When it comes to restaurants, I've typically tried to visit at least twice before I even consider writing a blog post about it.  The general exceptions to this rule has been on our various travels, when the likelihood of visiting a particular restaurant is on the lower end of the scale.

But Columbus's The Kitchen is a different beast altogether.  You could visit this place twenty different times and get twenty different experiences.  But there's a certain appeal, camaraderie, and lively atmosphere that is completely evident after one visit, and is a common theme no matter what the event.

Ice Cream Chronicles (Year 5): Double Your Pleasure

Si Señor is but one of the numerous Columbus-based institutions
undergoing expansion within the metro.
In the 1960's novelty song "I'm Henry VIII, I Am", the British beat band Herman's Hermits used repetition to great effect, taking a song that proclaimed "Second verse, same as the first" to the top of the charts.

This phrase might describe one of the main themes dominating the Columbus restaurant scene over the past year or so, as the most highly anticipated arrivals have come with existing eateries. The momentum seems especially high with places like Hot Chicken Takeover, Si Señor, Los Guachos, Harvest Pizzeria, Sweet Carrot, Momo Ghar, Little Eater, Westie's Gastropub and Katalina's either opening or planning new locations within a relatively short time frame.

The local ice cream scene happily has not been immune from this expansion, especially when it comes to the Mexican-based purveyors. Diamonds Ice Cream, which I wrote about in this blog post, has expanded to both Hilliard and Linworth (the latter as a partnership with newcomer restaurant Tomatillos.)  Meanwhile, those living on Columbus's Westside or near Cleveland Avenue where Columbus and Westerville meet up can make the journey to sample the sweet life.

Columbus Pizzapolitan Adventures (May 2018)

It's alive! The Greater Columbus Pizza Map is alive and kicking,
with three updates since its launch in February of this year
When I finished out my Greater Columbus Pizza Map earlier this year (for the story of that quest, check out this blog post and this one for the cheesy details), a discussion with my fellow blogger CMH Gourmand shortly afterward stuck with me. As he noted, one cannot dine on exclusively off the best gourmet pizzas of the metro unless one is ridiculously well off, and you if you look hard enough, you can find some measure of pizza satisfaction across all of the pie spectrums.

Indeed, feeding a field trip sized bus full of hungry elementary children with 20 large pizzas from a place like Natalie's Coal Fired or Harvest Pizzeria ain't economically feasible for most.  With that said, you would prefer not to feed your kids the dreck of the pizza world either.

In summary, I'm taking a little different tack (and inspiration) from the map and the subsequent discussion. Obviously, a pie from Harvest is almost certainly going to be significantly better than a pie from Little Caesars, but in some ways that's an unfair comparison as they sport different price points, different styles of pizza, and in many ways, striving for different audiences.

So which pizza pies are just plain good, which ones don't cut the mustard, and which ones punch above their weight? I figure delving into a couple of pizza places per month would be a good way to entertain this quest.

Southern Travels: Final Notes From The Road

I Only Want A Pic Of You - This Columbia, SC public art piece
pays tribute to hometown favorites Hootie and the Blowfish
At 2,000 miles on the road traveled on this vacation, you can imagine not everything makes it into a focused blog post. However, that doesn't mean that those particular places aren't worth a mention, so count this as our wrap up post of the other interesting places we encountered

Charleston Choosing (Part 4): Give Peace a Chance, and Sitting by the Dock of the Bay

The Charleston storefront of Columbus's very own Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams
Not surprisingly, coast-hugging Charleston is considered a hot bed of seafood, with numerous restaurants sporting all manner of sea creature creations on their menu. With its seasonally warm temperatures (the city averages 60 degree high temperatures in every month except January), Charleston has its fair share of frozen confection shops, from familiar chains (Ben & Jerry's, Haagen Dazs, and Kilwins), new arrivals (Jeni's, a brand very familiar Central Ohioans and growing in prominence nationwide), and local shops their own versions of ice cream, gelato, custard, and even the currently very trendy rolled ice cream variation.

On our Charleston trip, we got to dive into both, with some very tasty results indeed.

Charleston Choosing (Part 3): An Angel at Low Tide, and That's How It Gose

George C. Brilant & Company, one of the higher end antique stores you'll
find dotting the lower reaches of King Street in downtown Charleston
In a way, one of our brewery destinations in South Carolina was determined four years prior during a stop in the more northern reaches of the state in Greenville. Popping by the quite well stocked Greenville Beer Exchange for some suggestion of local South Carolina brews to bring back with us, the clerk introduced us to our first Gose beer.

We knew from the first sampling that this wasn't going to be everyone's bag, including this Thrillist author who declared that craft beer was officially dead with his first samplings of this style which originated in Goslar, Germany in the middle of the 19th century. However, this crisp, lemony and salty brew sat right with our taste buds, and we brought home two six-packs for consumption.

Our second brewery destination was a happy accident, a chance spotting on the way to see one of the oldest and, as it turned out, most entrancing living things residing in the eastern part of the country.

Charleston Choosing (Part 2): Grits Are Good For You, and The Slice you Needa'

Walking on top the High Battery, the seawall and promenade which
was originally part of the town's coastal battery defenses
The fact that Charleston's culinary scene has risen on a national level cannot be denied, though if you take as de facto what this USA Today article states, this attention might be a bit much for the locals, as it has perhaps unsurprisingly brought in increased car traffic, raised rental rates, and created staffing shortages in the hospitality industry.

Even with these issues, I am certain the attention given to the local food scene by these national luminaries is deep down a point of pride for the residents of this city of just under 135,000 people, and we were obviously not about to deny ourselves our first sampling of this diverse food scene.

Charleston Choosing: Fort Nights and a Mart of Ill-Repute

Just a few of the houses that form Rainbow Row in Charleston, SC
"First light
just roll your window down
And smell the salty air
perfume of Charleston Town
I'm a stranger here, no one you would know
My ship has not come in but I keep hoping though
And I keep looking past, the sun that sets above
Saying to myself, goodnight America"
Mary Chapin Carpenter - "Goodnight America"

Just as my spouse and I passed the picturesque houses "Rainbow Row" in Charleston (the state's oldest city, being founded in 1670) I spied a sign outside what looked to be the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon with the bold claim that the structure was the most historic building in this harbor town.

We did not stop by the dungeon on this trip, so I have no way to verify whether or not this statement is remotely true. But there's plenty of history to be had in Charleston, and we decided to get a dose of the familiar and the not-quite-as-familiar, as well as a serious delving into at the grim reality which was largely responsible for the pretty exterior facade that typifies the downtown area.

Ice Cream Chronicles (Year 5): Be Aware of Greeks Bearing Sweets

Opened in 1851, the downtown Savannah located Marshall House served as one
of the city's destination hotels until its closure in 1957. An extensive restoration
in 1999 brought the building back to its glory and original purpose as a hotel.
Columbus Ohio area residents know full well what kind of sweet treats Greeks can create. Emigrating from Greece, the Barouxis family started Jolly Roger Donuts in 1969. Now known as Buckeye Donuts, current owner Jimmy Jr. and his staff conjure up breakfast sandwiches, gyros, and those trademark decadent dough rings for the public 24/7, and their gala 50th anniversary really isn't too far away now.

Columbus residents traveling down to Savannah should be aware of another Greek-owned institution selling delicious sweet treats.  In this case, this local gem, Leopold's Ice Cream, is less than one year removed from celebrating a century's worth of providing tasty frozen confections for local residents and visitors alike.

Headed Down Savannah Way

Girl Scouts all around the country make a pilgrimage to Savannah's Drayton Street,
which was home to the organization's first headquarters building
"To wake next to you in the morning
And good morning to you
How do you do?
Hey, good morning to you!
More covers for you
Sleep soundly dear, 'cause I have to go

And I'll love you always
When we leave this place
And drive back to Carolina
And down to Savannah and
Band of Horses - "Part One"

Two things struck us on our trip into Savannah, which holds the status as the state of Georgia's oldest city. Firstly, the city is highly geared towards the tourist, perhaps more so than most. The placards at the Visitors Information Center advertise numerous tours based on a variety of subjects (architecture, cemeteries and ghosts, and movies, to name a few) and all manner of transportation (trolleys, boats, Segway scooters, horse-drawn carriages, and good old foot power) at the ready.

Something Followed, Something New: Burial Beer (Asheville, NC)/Fonta Flora (Morganton, NC)

Stray Local, an Americana/Folk group based out of Wilmington, NC,
provided some toe-tapping music at Morganton's Fonta Flora Brewery
One thing that drew us to Asheville in the first place was their status as a craft beer mecca. Our first two visits, within one year of each other, introduced us to a nice swath of the area's craft brewers, including a very early visit to Wicked Weed Brewing, Green Man Brewing, Asheville Brewing, and the Brevard-located production facility of Colorado-based Oskar Blues.

You can expect a lot of changes with a four-year gap between the second and third visits, and sure enough, that turned out to be the case. Out of the big names, New Belgium and Sierra Nevada (as much as we tried, we couldn't make a companion trip to their Mills River location to pair up with our Chico trip a reality) have joined Oskar Blues as national breweries setting up shop in the area. Wicked Weed has also joined the big boys with their purchase by AB InBev in their so-called "High End" division, a move which shocked many in the craft beer world. And there are plenty of new breweries that have joined old guard members like Wedge, Highland, and French Broad.

With our time limited, we decided to drop by a brewery that impressed us greatly on our last visit and one brewery on the outskirts of town that has been impressing with their brews made from numerous locally-produced ingredients.

Ice Cream Chronicles (Year 5): Rising Up to the Challenge of Your Rival

Asheville's iconic Flat Iron sculpture, which was modeled by local artist
Reed Todd after the irons used at the historic Asheville Laundry.
"Love is a burning thing 
And it makes a fiery ring 
Bound by wild desire 
I fell into a ring of fire.
I fell into a burning ring of fire,
I went down, down, down and the flames went higher
And it burns, burns, burns,
The ring of fire, the ring of fire."
Johnny Cash - "Ring of Fire"

We freely acknowledge as a couple that our appetite for hot, spicy food skews our perceptions a bit.  With that said not even the most veteran, heat-tolerant spice seeker (we don't count ourselves in this select category) can't avoid being sent into facial contortions given enough capsaicin in their consumables. 

Add in a little lack of consistent, practical experience of late with the hot and spicy, and perhaps our recent experience with one of Asheville's hottest food purveyors was to be expected.  Thankfully, the outing, with an eatery appropriately starting with the name of Rocky only put us partially down for the count, and a little after dinner ice cream treat soothed our somewhat seared pride.

Saying Hello To An Old Friend: Return to Asheville

Mural of actress/comedienne/Asheville native Shirley Hemphill,
as painted by local artist Gus Cutty
"And we're supping on tears
and we're supping on wine 
We all get to heaven in our own sweet time 
So come all you Asheville boys
And turn up your old-time noise 
And kick 'til the dust comes up
From the cracks in the floor"
Gillian Welch - "Hard Times"

Our yearly road trip adventures this year found us in one of our favorite destinations in Asheville, NC. The time gap between our two visits (roughly four years) plus the scope of our trip (unlike other visits, this craft beer mecca would share the spotlight with other destinations) made blending old favorites and new explorations a little trickier.

When all was tallied in the end, we sneaked in a lot more than we figured we would in our less than 48 hours in this town of nearly 90,000 people, and ended with plenty of worthwhile things to write about.

Kain Na Tayo! Bonifacio Modern Filipino

Much of the history regarding Bonifacio and my personal relationship to this Filipino restaurant can be found at this prior blogpost, which detailed the experiences of my spouse and I at their July 2016 preview event. At that time, I was eager to for the restaurant's grand opening, but in many ways I wanted to fully digest how Krizzia Yanga's somewhat bold venture into a full-service restaurant, largely spurred on by the success of their Filipino-oriented silog (featuring a fried egg) and panini brunch and lunch offerings at her Downtown Columbus-located Red Velvet Cafe and in a region largely unfamiliar with Filipino cuisine.

Well, almost two years later after the restaurant's opening, and after landing a "Best New Restaurants of 2016" from Columbus Monthly and grabbing national press in media sources like NPR and Southwest: The Magazine, I figured I had more than enough time to take it all in. In some ways, this post is somewhat exemplary of the concept of Filipino Time, a concept not unlike Hawaiian Time where folks (or in this case, this blog post) are known to show up fashionably late to events.

In Praise of the Swag Bag: Brunch with the Columbus Food Bloggers

The swag bags you'd get at pre- and post-race athletic event expos
were the ultimate cat's meow at one time of my life
Back in the day when my body was adapting better to the condition known as "adult onset athlete", I learned about the joys of the swag bag, especially in relation to running or triathlon races. Back in those days, an energy gel that wouldn't make you barf and a running shirt made of wicking material (bonus points for a good fit) were really nice gets. Every now and again, your event fee would get you a really good quality product - one swag bag turned out to be the best swag itself, a snazzily constructed duffel bag that we have taken on numerous trips now for almost a decade now. On occasion, the mystery of what you might get in the bag actually outweighed what you found there.

As the focus of my spare time in recent years has turned toward both blogging and exploring my new city of residence, the swag bag still holds that special intrigue for me, whether it was related to a community event (such as Franklinton's fun holiday Festivus event swag bag, which was available for a small donation) or attendance at a group event. The little coupons and items within have led us to explore some businesses and sampled some products we may have never figured out existed during our normal travels.

Our haul from our most recent swag bag (a natty model produced by Inked and Screened) came at the fun gathering that was the Columbus Food Bloggers potluck brunch. The contents, plus some special guests in attendance, proved to be for my spouse and I both a discovery and rediscovery of a wide swath of locally produced products.

Thrills for the Gills: Marino's Seafood Fish and Chips

My relationship to seafood has always been a tenuous one, but one thing that has remained true for me is that frying solved a lot of my reluctance. In fact, I remember as a kid liking my parent's fried fish so much, I would crack off chunks of the tails simply because I enjoyed the crunch. Steamed crab was never a favorite of mine, but my first encounter with a fried up disc of deliciousness that is a Maryland Crab Cake gave me a new way of thinking of this crustacean.

As I've grown up, my appreciation for this culinary class of food has evolved, and I've begun to appreciate well-made seafood creations no matter what the preparation method. But I'll always have a jonesing for the fried versions, something that has led me more times than not to the doors of Marino's Seafood Fish & Chips, located in Columbus' Fifth by Northwest neighborhood.

Hier spielt die Musik: Valter’s at The Maennerchor

My first encounter with the German culinary hybrid currywurst came courtesy of a
Columbus Männerchor booth at German Village's Village Lights holiday event
For all the influence that immigrants from Germany had in Columbus's early history, the culinary presence these days is somewhat muted.  German Village's Schmidt's is the most prominent purveyor these days, with their famed cream puffs and Bahama Mama sausages, but overall the numbers are/were slim, from the recently closed Juergens Bakery (due to be replaced by another German restaurant), Grandview Heights's German import Hofbräuhaus, the Crosswoods-area Wurst Und Bier, and a decidedly German take on fast food in Polaris's What´s for Döner.

Other options to sample German treats blend in a welcome dose of culture: Columbus's annual Oktoberfest celebration offers beer, music and other cultural elements in a family-friendly, festival-style setting. Additionally, the Brewery District-located Germania Society, which was established in the mid-1800s to help new German immigrants adapt to their new homeland, openly invites the public to join them in events such as their Sommerfests and Red, White and Brats.

Java Broad-side: Bottoms Up and Third Way Cafe

Columbus's vigorous coffee scene has headed west in recent months
down Broad Street, one of the city's historically main thoroughfares
For those in the know, the Columbus coffee scene continues to steam as vigorously as milk for a latte drink, prior to and ever since the well-respected Sprudge Media Group's listing Ohio's capital city as one of its Five Underrated Coffee Cities. Just in the past several months alone, a bevy of local favorites, from Fox In The Snow, Roaming Goat Roasters, and Stauf's either opening new locations or on the verge of expansion.

Of course, the places to grab a lovely cup of java around here tend to be concentrated in select neighborhoods, with the Short North, German Village, and Downtown being prime hot spots. But I personally like to the opportunity for a good cup of joe filter out to lesser served parts of the metro, as I found out headed toward parts west on Broad Street during recent travels.

Brews and Ques: A Trip to the Heart Of Ohio

Our last antique venture led us to this bottle from Schlee & Son Brewery,
which made its home in Columbus' historic Brewery District
Our next pairing of 'Ques and Brews wasn't an option in prior years, mainly because the Brews pairing wasn't in existence. However, give credit to the ever growing Ohio craft beer industry - as noted in this Columbus Business First article, nearly 70 breweries were added to the Buckeye State roster in 2017 alone to push the total number statewide to nearly 260. While the brewery in this pairing was actually a Class of 2016 member, our recent visit was our first chance to pair an old with a new favorite.

Going Off The Rails on the Wholesome Train: Acre

Looking back at that Columbus Underground "Best New Restaurants of 2014 List" that I had mentioned on a post last year on Bareburger, I noticed just how many of these restaurants have become or were regulars in our rotation.  Of course, there's local phenomenon Hot Chicken Takeover, but in addition I found the now (sadly) departed Double Comfort, the Brewery District hot spot Arepazo Latin Grill (I have blogged about their first two locations in Downtown and Gahanna), and Clintonville's Harvest Bar & Kitchen, an offshoot of the original Harvest Pizzeria in German Village.

Also on this list was an eatery that for some reason had for some reason slipped through the cracks in terms of a blog post in the locally-focused, fast-casual eatery known as Acre.

It's Not The Journey, But The Destination That Matters

The above photo highlights one of the first times I got to sample the creations of Columbus' "Donut Queen" aka Heather Morris, owner and force behind Destination Donuts.

At that time, Columbus (a very under-the-radar donut town, if I do say so myself) had little in the way of more fancy donut creations, and Morris saw the opportunity in the market for her more upscale, gourmet creations. Her pop-up made regular appearances at the North Market, and her creations were just starting to make her way out to local shops like The Hills Market and Luck Brothers Coffee in Grandview Heights. The locations she regularly stopped weren't necessarily easy for us to get to in those days, but we made it a point to grab her inventive flavor creations like Raspberry Hibiscus, Thai Peanut and Caramel Apple. Even better: the simpler flavors like her Dueling Vanilla and her vegan creations are equally as flavorful and addicting as those fancier models.

The Happy Ones Are Here: Baba's

The current mural outside Baba's in Columbus' South of Hudson (SoHud) neighborhood
My spouse and I are generally fairly unabashed menu surfers. Not that we have our don't have our favorite menu items at the eateries we attend regularly, but it's fairly rare that we settle on one dish without fail. For example, my spouse and I pretty much gravitate to the Vermicelli with Grilled Pork and sliced Spring Rolls on every visit to Buckeye Pho, which has in many ways morphed into a comfort dish for us.

When it comes to Baba's in the South of Hudson neighborhood, we are still working through all the menu, but there's one item that is quickly falling into that must get on every visit.

The Greater Columbus Pizza-politan Area

The Ohio State University Campus: a heavy (unsurprisingly) pizza area
As covered in my last blog post, a simple question about Worthington being the pizza capital in terms of ratio of pizza to people proved to be a lot more complicated than I would have thought at first glance. A lot of it has to do with geography - ragged city borders from years of annexation and the normal flow of business means some popular destinations for the city's residents are actually not in Worthington proper.  But as a countering force, there is a hometown pizza aspect that does drive diners to prefer one pizza place over another.

With obviously other factors at play like price and convenience, I figured that a bigger picture was needed and that all pizza places in the area needed to be mapped. Who knows, similarly sized suburbs like Bexley or Grandview Heights might be more pizza-rich than Worthington, or maybe I could pinpoint some relative pizza hot spots. So a couple weeks after I started looking into the topic, I broke out my Google Maps and centered it on the Columbus area and punched in the word "pizza".

Worthington: Pizza Capital of Central Ohio?

The downtown Worthington location of Cincinnati-based Dewey's Pizza
"Is Worthington the pizza capital of Central Ohio?"

This rather simple notion that I overheard in casual conversation awhile back seemed to have some merit on my casual remembrance: this smallish Columbus suburb does seem to have a fair number of pizza purveyors within reach of the area's residents. And like that intoxicating smell of melting cheese, tomato sauce and browning dough in the oven, the question grew more alluring in my mind.  Finally, early last November on a day I wasn't doing anything else in particular, I decided to dive in to the topic.

Little did I know that that quest would be almost like answering the bigger, oft-debated questions related to pizza, such as what style of pizza rules supreme, and this quest's eventual result was not anything like I was expecting at the beginning...

Petal-er of Tasty Treats: Flowers and Bread

An insurance commercial I remember from a couple years ago (all my attempts to verify the actual company behind it have gone for nought) focused on some rather dubious-sounding business combinations ("Kevin's Plumbing and Hot Dogs, may I help you?"), with the ultimate lesson being that you should trust the focused specialist.

Clintonville's Flowers & Bread, created by Sarah Lagrotteria and Tricia Wheeler roughly one year ago, seems to go against that train of thought, offering up the charms of both flours and, well, flowers underneath the same roof.  It sounded like an intriguing combo (not that I would be interested in the floral aspect all that much) but I did wonder on another level whether this would come off as gimmicky in any way.

Thankfully, my spouse and I have found this not to be the case at all.

The Sounds of Bronuts: Cravings Cafe

When I initially started writing this post related to the return of Cravings Cafe, I kind of got the feeling that I was adding to the chorus of those pleased to see the creations of Matt and Lindsey Tewanger available to the public at large again.  Media sources like the Columbus DispatchColumbus Underground, Columbus Alive and our the city's own breakfast guru Breakfast With Nick and have documented the Tewanger's longer-than-expected saga (roughly two years) to rehab the long-idle Saigon Palace space in downtown into their third iteration of their business.

I could tell you that their seasonal creations are just as tasty as they are (and they are), and that the downtown crowd has made Cravings a go-to spot for breakfast and lunch (the place has always been buzzing on my visits), and that their space, while still relatively cozy, is much more functional and appealing than their old Italian Village home, and that their once specialty item in their Bronut becoming a regular menu item.

But frankly, I think that would be rather rote, and since I'm feeling a little creative on my return back to the Columbus food scene, I figured I oughta' sweeten this post up with a little poetic license.

Three For The Road: Until We Meet Again, Bay Area...

As is typical, our Bay Area travels covered a number of random delectable destinations around the region, and we'll be closing this extended series with three of those places, covering the worlds of craft beer, coffee and ice cream.

Barebottle Brewing Company - San Francisco's Bernal Heights neighborhood is a little bit off the radar for most visitors to the area, but the area holds some fairly respectable culinary charms.  Barebottle Brewing Company's arrival to the area in June 2016 (courtesy of Michael Seitz and Lester Koga, whose success in homebrewing competitions encouraged them to go professional) added a craft beer element to the area.

Blue Heron Lands and Klezmer Bands: Cullinan Ranch Wetlands/Saul's Delicatessen

A panoramic view of the Cullinan Ranch Wetlands, an under-the-radar treasure of the Bay Area
Way back in the days when the native peoples roamed the lands of what would become the state of California, the Bay Area unsurprisingly housed acres and acres of natural wetlands. These spaces, vital ports for migratory birds of all types, remained relatively untouched until 40 years California achieved its statehood, when officials thought these "useless" wetlands would be better used to supplement the state's burgeoning agricultural industry.

Cullinan Ranch, a 1500-acre parcel of former tidal marsh, like many of its surrounding wetlands, was diked off for those purposes. Later, a proposed marina community development in the 1980s and threatened any chance of full restoration, but the proposal was ultimately defeated and led to the land's sale back to the US Fish and Wildlife Service for that very purpose.

Tomales Bay and Tasty Ways: Pt. Reyes National Seashore/M.H. Bread and Butter

One thing I will always love about California is the weather, in that it generally is much less an impediment to exploring Mother Nature's wonders than elsewhere.  With solidly fair weather in place throughout our California stay, we figured a couple of day trips to do some exploring were in order.

Tomales Bay in Point Reyes National Seashore, underneath which the San Andres
Fault runs (photo credit to Brewbooks under Wikimedia Commons license)
Geographically, the casual observer might think at first glance that the Point Reyes peninsula looks as if it were being cut in half by the Pacific Ocean. That notion is more correct than they might suspect, as the San Andreas Fault runs right along where Tomales Bay lies. Essentially, anything east of the bay is going south toward Los Angeles, while anything west is creeping north toward Alaska. What this unique clash of land masses creates is a bevy of interesting sights for the visitor.

Wine Country in Recovery: Through The Valley of the Moon

We admit, it was hard to keep our eyes on the roadway ahead of us as we made our way out of Santa Rosa down California's Highway 12, the scenic "Valley of the Moon" highway that cuts through some of the prettiest parts of Sonoma and Napa counties. The charred hillsides in the distance proved to be a consistent backdrop to be chaotic, erratic nature of the wildfires on either side of the road.

Relatively lengthy stretches of normal were interrupted by seared foliage and grasslands, or worse, a vineyard or a business blackened almost beyond recognition. Perhaps the most jarring to me of the sights I saw this day was the rubble that had been historic, century-old Stornetta Dairy complex where Napa Road and Highway 12 intersect.