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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.

First and foremost, the brunch itself was a fun and delicious affair with lots of great company, and a great example of the collaborative nature I've found in the Columbus food and beverage scene in general. Due to time constraints, I haven't been able to get to many of the bloggers events as I would like, so there was a lot of matching up face to blog for me along with the chatter and munching on various delicious topics. With plenty of tasty dishes at the ready, it was easy to go overboard on what was brought, but we were all smart enough to save room for some special esteemed local guests.

That spirit of collaboration can be easily seen with Steven White, the owner and familiar figure behind the J-Pops gourmet ice pop carts at various local farmers markets and community events. We've gotten to know him simply through our weekend market ramblings, and his tasty creations earn automatic purchase consideration almost anywhere we find his carts. His latest boozy pop creation, made with the help of the folks behind Simple Times mixers and Karate Cowboy spirits (who also were both present), was received quite well by all in attendance.

We got to sample something new as well: we had seen Bellisari's Spreads at various markets, but with all the choices out there, it’s impossible to dive into everything you see. Thus, it was nice to have the company's owner Annette out there with all sauces and spreads. Sampling a really good product for us keeps in something of a long term memory loop (products like Tessora Liqueur and Krema's Roasted Nuts) and now Bellisari's occupies a spot there as well. We'll be quite happy in the next few months thinking of creative ways to use the two jars of sauces (especially the Saigon Street Sauce) in our bag.

Other swag bag items were also a mix of the old and new: the beer-laced lollipops of Lollipop Lush  and a neat hat from Shelly Lou's Lids reminded us of similar items we had seen at numerous farmers and vendors markets throughout the years.  Meanwhile, a couple of hot sauces of CaJohns (I wrote about them back on this blogpost) and containers of Ridiculously Good Salsa (one of our go-to refrigerator-based salsa brands) brought to mind that this area is a bit underrated in the fiery condiments world, with the newly-fashioned Double Comfort, Montezuma, and Taylor's Made Original Hott Pepper Sauce (sadly, no longer around) seeing time on our shelves at one time or another.

In addition, the presence of a bag from JK Brittleworks was a nice surprise. We remember buying a bag of their tasty brittle when they first appeared at Easton Mall's Celebrate Local store.  There has been a lot of sweet seeking and sampling ever since then, and I was actually thinking it was time to invest in a new bag our next visit out to one of our favorite local product stores. I guess now that means money gets to go to other local products on the next trip in.

Finally, for all the indulging we did at the brunch, there was indulgence we weren't able to go home with. I first stumbled into the ice creams of Indulgence Ice Cream at downtown Columbus's monthly Moonlight Market and ran into owner Dan Rhule as well as The Dude, a beguiling flavor mix of White Russian ice cream with vodka and Kahlua. With one of my regular long-running segments being the Ice Cream Chronicles, I had been out looking for another chance to indulge and this brunch turned out to be the return visit.

Indulgence is not doing the market route this year, but their delicious creations are featured at Grandview's La Tavola Restaurant. Happily for us, all of their flavors were available for sampling, and everything we tried from the Belgian Bliss (a Speculoos-flavored affair) to their Lemon Marscapone and Bourbon Roasted Cherries to our personal favorite in the Movie Night (think Cracker Jack flavors) were delightfully delicious affairs. Due to our travels, the option of leaving with a tub of one of these frozen delights was (sadly) not in the cards, but the consolation prize (a night out at La Tavola at a yet to be determined date) isn't a bad one at all.

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