These Jolly Days of Priceless Worth

As a result of my marriage to Mrs. 614orty-Niner, an alumna of The Ohio State University, I've more or less been absorbed into the Buckeye family.

In fact, one of my most interesting mental exercises as I grew accustomed to this area was seeing how much of the Columbus metro area is tied to and revolves around the goings-on of the university. This phenomenon is amplified to even greater heights when college football season rolls around (I have kinda' noticed that this area is a tiny (ahem) bit crazy for the university's football team.) Even the Mrs. has told me that I am more likely to be the proverbial "football widower" during the season than vice versa.

Getting with the program
For example, I've noticed supermarket shopping is a much more hectic affair the hours before the kickoff. On the opposite side, there was nary a soul in sight at a music show I attended that had been unfortunately scheduled at the same time as a big nighttime Buckeyes game. And no local sports bar worth their salt wouldn't have a plethora of Buckeye-related paraphernalia and a TV screen turned to their games for the next few months.

Having lived three-plus decades in Northern California, I had a generally good idea that fanaticism for any of the Bay Area's major college football teams (namely, Stanford and University of California Berkeley) couldn't hold a match to that of schools like Ohio State.

There are numerous reasons for this of course, but the main one lies in one simple word: success. Ohio State has built a tradition and expectation for success over the life of their football program, and has been the beneficiary of much media exposure. In contrast, both Stanford and Cal have had generally only sporadic, short runs of good to excellent play. Another important factor is that sports fanaticism in the Bay Area for sports generally lies with the professional teams; Ohio State does not have to battle Columbus' pro franchises for the community's attention to any great degree.

Now, reaching these conclusions on a mental level is fine, but having the chance to test them out in real-life is much more desirable. I was excited to experience my first up-close taste of this fanaticism when my spouse and I traveled into enemy territory to watch the Buckeyes take on the Golden Bears early in the 2013 season.

For what it's worth, I had no particular loyalty to Cal when I lived in the Bay Area other than they were a local team and I wanted them to do well against other big name schools. Even more so, I wanted to beat teams from Southern California; in fact, this unofficial Northern California vs. Southern California geographical and lifestyle rivalry may actually be the state's most far-reaching, spilling over into things like both amateur and professional sports.

The scarlet and gray's prominence could not be missed
I knew, based on years of prior commuting experience, that the best way to get to Cal's home field (Memorial Stadium) on game day was to take the BART train, the Bay Area's version of the New York City's subway, or Washington DC's metro system. This is where I first noticed how well Buckeye fans travel: for those who were obviously sporting their college colors at the platform, most of them were sporting the scarlet and gray of OSU.

Further evidence came as we both left the station and walked through downtown Berkeley to the stadium, where scarlet and gray clothing dominated the view. Despite trying as hard as I could, I spotted only occasional splotches of Cal's blue and gold (side note: all University of California schools have some variation of blue and gold as their school colors.) This proved the same on the way back, where it seemed every big tour bus parked on the street was Buckeye-chartered.

A Cal alum's worst nightmare?
If I was a old-time and/or hardcore Cal alum, I would've been distressed by the breakdown of those attending the game. Ostensibly, we sat just outside of the area designated for fans of visiting teams, but in reality we probably could've sat most anywhere (save for the Cal student section) and been surrounded by hordes of Buckeyes. In fact, Buckeye fan distribution there was such that the "O-H-I-O" chant that normally swirls around The Shoe between stadium sections regularly crescendoed around Memorial Stadium during the game.

Talking with other Buckeye fans in the stadium made me and my spouse realize we weren't alone in making the journey here from far away places. For some, attending this game had been planned pretty much since the home and home series between Cal and Ohio State was announced in the late 2000's. Another family we ran into said this was the last stop of a West Coast excursion, and that they would be starting the drive back to Columbus after the game.

The Buck-I-Guy grabs some grub
At this game, I also received my first Buckeye "baptism" of sorts in that I ran into and shook the hand of Ohio State's most prominent fan, the Buck-I-Guy. I'm not sure what it is about Berkeley or Berkeley-esque settings, but I actually crossed his path again this year's Comfest event. Who knows: with this trend, my next random meetup with him might be a Yellow Springs Street Fair, or perhaps cruising the Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco.

For what its worth, there were Cal fans near and around our section, but they must have felt a little bit outnumbered. A few gave as good as they got, but by the end the avalanche of Ohio State support and the inevitable result finally caused most of them to leave as the clock was winding down its final minutes.

As the sun set, the scoreboard told the final tale
In any case, Buckeye fans went home both satisfied and unsatisfied on this day. On the positive side, the day couldn't have been more perfect weather-wise, and the Buckeyes put up 52 points in their win over Cal. On the negative side, the Buckeye defense allowed 34 points to a team that would end up winless in conference play, and kept things relatively close until late. This foreshadowed a precarious tightrope that this edition of the Buckeyes would end up walking more often than not right until the very end. For the spouse and I, we couldn't have imagined a much better day together enjoying some football.

Who knows what this season may bring for OSU's football team and their fans, especially after the season-ending injury to talented starting quarterback Braxton Miller. The prospect of a freshman QB leading an already rebuilt offense (including four new starters on the offensive line and the loss of their top running back Carlos Hyde to the pros) has rightfully put a lot of their fans on edge. Interestingly, a decently tough starting schedule (including Virginia Tech and University of Cincinnati) may tell the tale of how well this team will fare against the big boys of college football more than their Big 10 conference games.

No matter what happens, I believe two words apply: Go Bucks!

Ohio State Buckeyes Football 2014
First Opponent: Navy Midshipmen (at Baltimore, MD)
Saturday, August 30, 2014
12 noon EDT
Official School Website
Official Schedule

Sandwiches Around the Statehouse: Cafe Brioso

Cafe Brioso's storefront: the sign points to good things inside
If you are familiar with Cafe Brioso only as a coffee house, this may seem like a bit of an odd header under which to place them. However, this header really shows how diversified this place really is.

Of course, the main calling card for Brioso is its excellent coffee. If you come through the entrance off High Street, the first thing you will probably notice is the buckets of freshly roasted beans off to the left; a quick glance behind will give you a view of the area that houses their roasting equipment and other ancillaries (e.g. their pour-over coffee station.) Numerous restaurants around the Columbus metro area feature Cafe Brioso coffee on their menus.

Breakfast gives the customer several options: for those with modest appetites, freshly-baked scones are available. Those who want something a little more filling can opt for their freshly-baked muffins or the excellent bagels from local bagel maker Sammy's New York Bagels. Other baked goods available for customers include cookies, croissants and, every now and again, pie (and who can argue with pie?) Generally, I've found all their baked goods rating in the good category.

And then there are the sandwiches, which are available in half-order ($4 - $5) or full-order ($6 - $7) sizes. These sandwiches aren't the best or necessarily the largest in the downtown area, but their homemade nature makes them reliably tasty for me. Their tuna salad or fresh mozzarella (or, when available, their special Lily's egg salad) are my standard go-to orders here. Brioso also earns bonus brownie points for the use of wonderful bread of local institution Dan The Baker in their sandwiches. Customers also can choose from a select list of salads; soups can be ordered separately or specially-added to your sandwich or salad order.

We could end it with the food, but that would neglect the atmosphere. Out of all the places I have been to in the Columbus area so far, Cafe Brioso reminds me the most of a place would fit right into San Francisco's coffee scene without any undue notice.

However, no coffee shop I was familiar with there quite matches Brioso's mix of working-class (both white- and blue-collar) hangout; bicyclist-friendly atmosphere; community participation (as exampled in the Pinchflat poster art show and Moonlight Market, where pop-up restaurants from the previously mentioned Dan the Baker and Kolache Republic find a home) and small business support (The Flying Gent Mercantile, which advertises itself as "the only Central Ohio destination for original, classic, and exclusive men's goods from around the world," can be found inside Brioso's shop.)

No, Cafe Brioso is Columbus' own and proud of that aspect. This pride also extends to their coffee as well as their part in the overall local coffee scene that has blossomed since I have been here. It's not surprising that Brioso has emerged as one of the primary destination spots in the downtown area, if not the city as a whole.

2019 Update: Brioso Coffee has opened up a second roastery on Long Street focusing on their roasted coffee beans and coffee drinks. For more information, check out their main website at the link below.

Cafe Brioso
14 E. Gay Street (Downtown - Google Maps)
Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 228-8366
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Ice Cream Chronicles (Pt. 10): Everyone Needs Their Toft's

The front of the Fremont parlor location
While my final ice cream post for the summer of 2014 is about the Sandusky-based Toft's, in reality it's about much more than the ice cream from Ohio's oldest dairy

Founded in 1900, Toft's was actually one of the first Ohio-based ice cream brands I saw advertised here in the Columbus metro area. A freezer case where one could grab a couple scoops of their ice cream is available to customers of The Andersons General Store in the Sawmill Road area of Northwest Columbus. Ironically, seeing it on every visit to the store was one of the main reasons why I never sampled it since moving here, despite my finding out that this is just about the only place in Central Ohio to sample their products. I figured since it was always there, I could have it anytime I wanted.

In the scope of things, Toft's is a real gem in that it remains locally and family owned. Their parlor at their headquarters in Sandusky is from all I read a truly nice setup and worth a visit (and yes, that is on the docket for me.) However, it may not be the optimal way for a neophyte to their products to sample their ice cream. From various visitors' reviews, it appears that they do not allow traditional sampling (e.g. using little spoons to sample various flavors) like most other ice cream places. This is made up quite a bit by the size of the scoops they serve you: they are HUGE, essentially making a small-size a large and a large-size something closer to ludicrous-size (to borrow a Spaceballs reference.) It seems like visitors would be best served by knowing what they really, really want and bringing a large appetite or a friend (or perhaps both.)

The interior of Toft's Ice Cream Parlor in Fremont
Fortunately, there is a remedy for this: Toft's has two more parlors nearby, and my spouse and I had the pleasant opportunity to make a side trip to the location in Fremont (which does allow sampling) on a jaunt to the supermarket to pick up a few items.

Residing in an aging strip mall in the northwest portion of town, this Toft's parlor doesn't look like much from the outside. The interior also shows the age of the building it resides in, but is otherwise well-kept and roomy. Besides their ice cream and related items such as sundaes and shakes, a variety of lunch items are available, including locally-based products like Ballreich's potato chips, Tony Packo's pickles, and a sandwich featuring Root's shredded chicken.

As lunchtime was just around the corner, we did our fair sampling of their many selections (including the Key Lime Pie, Mackinac Island Fudge and the Black Sweet Cherry) before settling on a single scoop option (scoops are very reasonably priced, from $2.75 for a single scoop to $5 for a quadruple.) Our selections, the Muddy's Sea Salt Slam (released in concert with the Toledo Mud Hens baseball team, this flavor sports salty caramel streaks and chocolate covered peanuts in vanilla ice cream) and my standard butter pecan were very similar to the quality and texture of the ice creams we sampled at Velvet Ice Cream in Utica.

Sunday scoops are hard to beat
What made this visit stick out here was this was the first visit with a youngster in our tow (my spouse's niece.) Her eyes lit up when we asked her if she wanted to join us on our supermarket trip, and even more so when we said we were going to drop by Toft's. And for her, there was no debate: it was Tons of Turtles (a caramel extravaganza featuring chocolate-caramel turtles and caramel slivers inside a french vanilla base) or bust.

I realized as we sat together enjoying our scoops that, despite all the enjoyment that my adult-aged self has received from my visits to all these ice cream shops, it never could match the raw excitement you get as a youngster. Ice cream, whether it be from the iconic ice cream truck and its blaring music, the mom & pop shop on the corner, or the big chain place at the mall, is one of the first things with which one typically identifies and associates as one grows up. This is a place that lets you swirl sweet memories into a base of your own special selection of flavors, and this affiliation often carries through to adulthood, no matter if you have moved on to "better" ice cream.

In other words, everyone who loves this frozen treat inherits and, in a way, needs their version of Toft's. So whatever name your own Toft's goes by, remember it fondly, fly their flag proudly, and keep licking away.

2017 Update: Toft's location in Fremont closed down in 2016.  However, their corporate location in Sandusky continues on business as usual - for more information on them, please consult my blogpost detailing our visit.

Location Visited:
Toft's Dairy Ice Cream Parlor
1306 Oak Harbor Rd
Fremont, OH 43420
(419) 334-7400

3717 Venice Road
Sandusky, OH 44870
(419) 625-5490

¡Vámanos! Columbus Food Adventures' Taco Truck Tour

Eat, drink and explore? Why, yes! thank you very much
Columbus Food Adventures (CFA), founded in 2010, has offered people a way to dig deeper into the burgeoning Columbus' food scene via their food tours. These tours are generally structured around a common food theme (desserts and meat offerings, for example) or are geographical in nature. For example, their excellent German Village Tour, the first CFA tour Mrs. 614orty-Niner and I partook in, offers not only delicious samples of the area's food but also historical perspective on this prominent neighborhood. My spouse (no, I'm not jealous) has also taken their excellent Coffee Tour, which provides a retrospective on coffee as a whole as well as the up-and-coming coffee scene in this area.

Andy, our knowledgeable CFA tour host
Spending three decades plus prior in Northern California, I got very familiar with Mexican cuisine in general. Much of it was based in more north/northwest Mexican regions (Zacatecas, Guanajuato and Sinaloa, for example) but I was thrilled when a place that was atypical (e.g. the Yucatan) would open and I could expand my perceptions of this country's overall cuisine. My spouse's interest in these street-level eats has also been opened up during her visits to the Bay Area and our trips to various mobile purveyors there.

Since moving to Columbus, we really hadn't done much sampling of this area's Mexican offerings, a fact that has been a bit disappointing to both of us. For me, the surprise of having so much in the way of this cuisine out here made it even more of a bugaboo for me. The Taco Truck Tour, a birthday present for my spouse, allowed both of us to explore that world together.

Andy, co-founder of the business along with his wife Bethia, turned out to be our host for the taco truck tour. He was an engaging host, providing solid knowledge of how this scene was established in the Columbus metro area and descriptions of the foods we were sampling. He also was more than happy to answer questions related to the tour as well as other Columbus food-related topics (and yes, there were plenty of those during our tour.)

Before we left, Andy explained that while there are two main areas for taco trucks in the metro area, the taco trucks on this tour were all generally based in the southwest portions of the metro area. Our first stop, La Popular, was representative of both what you get at a typical taco truck and the typical street taco.

The baseline street taco and menu at La Popular
Indeed, La Popular's menu reminded me of the typical taco truck menus back in the Bay Area, with perhaps a more comprehensive list of proteins than most (I was familiar with all of them except the jamon (ham.)) Everything that I knew to be typically in their street taco was here: two corn tortillas with the protein (in this case, barbacoa), plus diced onions, cilantro, and an assortment of sliced veggies. The barbacoa was quite tender and tasty, and everyone had the bonus option of sampling four different salsas rather than the standard red and green offerings (the avocado salsa was uniquely flavorful, but my spouse and I enjoyed them all.)

The spectacular Los Guachos, their glorious gringa, and a unique habañero add-on
Our next trip was to the granddaddy of the Columbus taco truck scene: Los Guachos. We quickly found out that the recently upgraded Los Guachos is really more of a taco trailer than a truck, a gleaming silver diner-like structure stationed in the parking lot of the La Boom nightclub. This is no accident: some of the more popular acts in the Mexican music world perform at La Boom and Los Guachos provides throngs of concert-goers the perfect opportunity to sate their hunger pangs.

Los Guachos has gained much local and national acclaim for their al pastor, which is essentially marinated pork that wrapped around a vertical rotisserie spit and slowly cooked. The al pastor is simply sliced off when needed for preparing an order.

My Bay Area experiences prior had been mainly with spicy al pastor and at places that did not use a pineapple on the top of the trompo to add carmelization to the meat. The sweet tang in Los Guachos I had from their brick and mortar location at Godown Road really caught me off guard, and I did not enjoy it as much as I thought I would. However, a positive experience at another taqueria (Charritos, as referenced in this blog post) where a pineapple was utilized in the al pastor cooking convinced me that I owed Los Guachos a second chance. This second chance came in the form of their gringa, a variation on a quesadilla where a toasted flour tortilla is covered in grilled, caramelized cheese, with onion and cilantro on top of the al pastor.

Oh, my! This al pastor was completely different from what I had the first time. I did get a hint of sweet in the crispy bits, but the predominant profile was savory, juicy and just plain good. I peered closer at the trompo holding the al pastor and saw what looked to a gas jet flame at full force cooking and crisping up the surface. This setup is pretty much the optimal one, something that their location on Godown or almost any brick and mortar can't duplicate (our host Andy tended to agree with me, saying he didn't find the al pastor quite as tasty at that location either.)

Another interesting aspect is their large bowls of sliced vegetables and a habañero slaw (slices of those hot peppers mixed in with sliced red onions and soy sauce) that adds a unique complement to anything that you might order from Los Guachos.

Taqueria San Angel: Frying up the cecina and their tasty tlayuda
Afterward, we moved basically across the street to visit one of the newcomers to the local scene: the Oaxacan-based Taqueria San Angel. Again, my prior Charritos visit came into play here, as they had some Oaxacan specialties that I was eager to try at a future date. Luckily for me, one of those specialties, the tlayuda (something of a Mexican pizza or flatbread) was on our sampling docket. San Angel's version sported a black bean paste (black beans are a staple of Oaxacan cuisine) and was topped with tomato, lettuce, cheese and cecina, thin strips of beef that reminded me of the Filipino tapa meat I ate as a youngster. The tlayuda was tasty, but the real highlight for the spouse and I was their horchata. Unlike most versions around the area, San Angel's was the real deal, made by soaking rice for a prescribed amount of time, straining the liquid, and adding what seemed to be cinnamon and maybe even some nutmeg. This drink was nicely refreshing on what turned out to be a hot and humid tour day.

The menu at Mr. Grill, spicy veggies, and a gordita done right
By the time we got to Mr. Grill, which according to our host was the oldest operating taco truck in the Columbus area, many of the tour-goers' stomachs were getting close to full. Still, that didn't stop most of us from enjoying Mr. Grill's version of a gordita, a grilled masa shell filled with meat (in this case, carnitas), lettuce, tomato and chunks of queso fresco. This was obviously way better than any version advertised by a certain fast food chain I shall not mention here, and I finished mine off no problem. If I had my druthers, I would've grabbed some of the pickled jalapenos and carrots (always a treat whenever I found them at any Bay Area taco trucks) but I wanted to save room for the final two stops.

Finishing off with Las Delicias and their Mexican nieve ice creams
Back home, I was very familiar with paleterias (one of my favorites, La Michoacana, was a frequently visited destination on the way home) but not so much with nieve, a Mexican water-based ice cream that Las Delicias served. Based on the flavors that were available at the time plus our host Andy's advice of the flavors he liked in order of preference, my spouse went with his recommended nuez (walnut) and I went with the middle-of-the-pack vanilla just for something different. Andy's preferences turned out to be good reference: we both enjoyed the nuez the most. The nieve itself for both our choices was something akin to a very lightly-flavored, finely textured snow cone placed on a regulation ice cream cone.

La Plaza Tapatia: Everything Mexican you can want and then some
Back in the Bay Area, stores like Seafood City in Vallejo or 99 Ranch Market in Daly City were places where I knew I could find just about anything Philippine-oriented within along with an assortment of other goods. La Plaza Tapatia basically is the same style store with a Mexican focus. Products were all well arranged and plentiful, the produce aisles looked like they held quality products, and the butcher's area was bustling with many customers. In addition, anyone with a massive sweet tooth could get that fulfilled a few times over with their rather extensive candy section. Finally, a restaurant that serves food beyond the typical taco truck offerings is also on the premises and is a favorite gathering place for numerous people. After some browsing around, we ended up with more hydration in the form of Mexican soda pop, often found at many taco truck stands.

Columbus' culinary offerings are well worth discovering, and CFA offers a concise, knowledge-filled and, most importantly, fun way to explore various aspects of this diverse world. We highly enjoyed our second tour together with CFA, look forward to taking in another tour sometime in the future, and recommend their tours to visitors and locals alike.

2017 update: Columbus Food Adventures has expanded its tour line to include Breakfast and Brunch tours with famed local blogger Breakfast With Nick and a walking tour of Old Worthington and Grandview.  For more information, please consult the following social media links or give them a phone call at (614)440-3177.
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I Would Drive 500 Miles

One of the interesting factoids I learned upon moving to Columbus is how close the city was to much of the United States' population. By most estimates, Ohio's capital city lies within 500 miles of approximately 50% of this country's populace.

This 500 mile figure has also proven to be a nice figure in another way for me. 500 miles is a good round figure for the number of miles one can drive in one day without stretching it too much (I have done a nearly 800-mile epic excursion from San Francisco to Seattle before, which convinced me even more that 500 miles was a much more reasonable figure.)

Back out west, if you drive 500 miles, I can still be in California if I took the right roads. Even if you drove the right way, the number of states you can reach from my old stomping grounds is pretty much limited to two states outside of California (Oregon and Nevada.)

In contrast, Columbus is within 500 driving miles of numerous cities in many more states. Being traveling fiends, Mrs. 614orty-Niner and I have used this fact to take many trips since I've moved out here, and in our travels we've visited many wonderful places, restaurants and other interesting destinations.

From this emerges my future IWD500mi posts: Ohio has been and remains completely wonderful to explore, but I think it's pretty terrific to find so much other interesting things out there just beyond this state's borders.

Sandwiches Around The Statehouse: Si Señor

One of the San Francisco Bay Area's slightly under the radar culinary treasures lies in its Peruvian restaurants. From the more upscale (Limon, Piqueos and Fresca) to the street level (Sanguchon and Cholo Soy,) you'll most likely be treated to something almost familiar but ultimately tasty in the end. Columbus does not have much in the Peruvian category at either end (alas) but it's most prominent representative is a good one: the sandwich-oriented Si Señor.

Like most downtown places, Si Señor can get busy around the lunchtime hour, but its popularity exceeds that of many of its surrounding restaurants. This has not stopped the sometimes overflow crowds as their sandwiches, where even standard-sounding offerings like Grilled Cheese and a Meatloaf Sandwich are given a Peruvian or Latin twist, rate high on the flavor scale.

Nowadays, the restaurant crew handles high volume of customers with plenty of aplomb. After their initial move, a couple of my orders ended up lost in the shuffle, but I have not noticed this issue in recent visits. Despite this, Si Señor would not be the place to go if you wanted a quick grab-and-go meal unless you arrived before the lunch rush.  If you are not inclined to fight the crowds and are able to grab a later lunch (or even early dinner), the restaurant has unusually long hours (11 AM to 6 PM) that probably signifies how popular this sandwich place has become.

Chicharrón Peruano sandwich, plus pics of the interior
For a space wedged in a downtown alley, the restaurant's interior is fairly spacious all things considered, with nice artistic touches such as wood-paneled floors and various pieces of artwork, including a display of simply inscribed ceramic dishes.

I've found that you really can't go wrong with their pork sandwiches, enjoying both the Pork and Pork (pork loin topped with chorizo) and the Chicharrón Peruano (pictured here; Peruvian style fried pork shoulder with salsa criolla (pickled red onions)) sandwiches during my visits. Ostensibly healthier options on the sandwich side include a Roasted Portabella with Chimichurri and a Peruvian Style Chicken Salad and Tuna Melt, as well as a collection of salads and their meat empanadas.

Their prices (basically between $5 to $7) makes these tasty sandwiches a solid value; I'd personally add on the combo deal where you can add a beverage and their nicely crunchy homemade potato chips or a side salad for a couple extra bucks. Tres Leches cake slices, flan, and lime pie slices are also available if you need your sweet tooth satisfied, as well as an intriguing box of homemade "Tejas" candies at the front register that I have yet to try, to my chagrin.

Si Señor continues to do a great job in producing uniquely tasty sandwiches and is definitely worth a spot on any downtown-goer's sandwich spot rotation.

2017 Update: Si Señor has been so successful, they have expanded into Grandview Heights with a second location. For more information, please click on the previous link or consult the updated social media links for the downtown location below.

Si Señor
72 E Lynn St (Downtown - Google Maps)
Columbus, Ohio 43215
(614) 227-0070
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Ice Cream Chronicles (Pt. 9): The Little Shoppe That Could

One thing I started noticing recently during my current summer ice cream crawl is that all the places I've visited were all fairly well established. Whit's Frozen Custard, covered in my last ice cream blogpost, is the youngest of the lot with just over a decade in existence. On the other end of the timescale, Graeter's Ice Cream has roots back to the late 1800s.

This made me think to myself: were there any newcomers around this area trying to make a dent in an area some have called the Capital of Ice Cream?

Enter in The Little Ice Cream Shoppe of Hilliard, a family-owned ice cream purveyor in the vein of the previously visited Mardi Gras which officially opened up for business at the doorstep of winter in December 2012.

This place is somewhat easy to miss upon first drive by: the store's sign doesn't really stand out against the somewhat non-descript exterior brick inlay which their resident Tinapple Mall sports. However, this bland exterior gives way to a neatly manicured but not uber-fancy interior that still hints at this business's still relatively new arrival onto the scene. This interior seems to have enough space to host a fairly decently sized birthday get-together or similar event.

Ice cream flavors (the Shoppe sports 24 at any one time) are written freehand right on the glass display cases, which works in concert with similarly-styled artwork on the front windows. Sundaes are the main focus of the menu, with  floats and shakes also available as options. A freezer with pre-packaged pints is also available who need their ice cream on the go.

Flavors seem mainly oriented to kid-oriented palates with a few flavors geared to more "adult" palates (i.e. Dark Chocolate and Espresso Chip.) Some flavors have already become standards such as The Cat's Meow (I missed this one in my initial viewing) and Superman (a melange of various berry flavors and related colors that I'm thinking is a kid favorite.)

After a sampling of the latter and the Pistachio Almond, and not seeing my standard Butter Pecan available, I went on a whim and went with one scoop each of the Coconut Almond Chip and Dulce de Leche ($3.99.) The former was my favorite of the two, sporting a similar texture to the ice creams I had at Bexley's Johnson's Real Ice Cream. The Dulce de Leche might be a little sweet for some tastes, but did sport a lighter and creamier mouth feel with nice swirls of caramel within the base.

For me, The Little Ice Cream Shoppe is geared toward the kids and those families with kids. This has been a tried-and-true strategy for almost all ice cream places past and present, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. What may make the Shoppe become a long-term member of the ice cream society in the Columbus metro area lie as much with the product (solidly good, but not spectacular and/or gourmet based on my first tastings) as it does with another equally important aspect: the people associated with the product.

My visit took place during a lull in the foot traffic, and shortly after I had settled down at my seat to eat my scoops, the only person left in there was my server. Frankly, I would've been just fine with finishing my ice cream by my lonesome for my time there, but my server was intent on putting a friendly foot forward. For the next fifteen minutes or so, I engaged in a completely (and pleasantly) unexpected conversation with this young man while I ate my sweet treat.

I noticed a recent Facebook post from the business thanking their workers who were returning back to school (this young man would be included in this group.) If this server is typical of the friendliness of people associated with The Little Ice Cream Shoppe, I would say this aspect, combined with that initial passion to start from scratch and the production of solid quality ice cream, tilts their odds of reaching that previously mentioned decade mark in their favor.

The Little Ice Cream Shoppe
3229 Hilliard-Rome Rd (Google Maps)
Hilliard, OH 43026
(614) 563-3485
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Ice Cream Chronicles (Pt. 8): At Whit's End

Custard is essentially ice cream's creamier cousin, a texture that is achieved mainly through the addition of egg yolks to the mix. Generally speaking, this was something that was pretty much unknown to me throughout my life. Regular and soft serve ice cream, and in my latter California days, frozen yogurt, sorbet and gelato were in the rotation when I wanted a frozen treat of some sort.

Columbus, as it turns out, has a several options for custard, including Pennsylvania-based Rita's (who are more well known for their Italian ices) and Culver's out of Wisconsin. But really, these ice cream chronicles have focused in on Ohio mainly, and there's no better candidate for a visit in this category than Granville-based Whit's.

Whit's is a relative newcomer, having reached it's 10th anniversary as a company just last year, and sports 22 locations mainly in Ohio (singular stores can also be found in Asheville, NC, and Atlantic Beach, FL.) in the Columbus metro area, the company has outposts in Gahanna, Dublin, Hilliard and the Short North neighborhood, which is where I dropped by one recent early evening.

Only four flavors, but lots of things you can do with them
Unlike your typical ice cream shop that boasts a lot of flavors, Whit's goes in the opposite direction. Their custards are made fresh daily Vanilla and chocolate are their standard everyday flavors; in addition, they boast both a weekly flavor and a flavor of the day. If someone's favorite flavor is not featured, they can more likely than not find it in pre-packaged pints in their freezer; cakes are also available for toting home.

Customers can take the in-store flavors and request all the usuals (sundaes, blends, etc.) One particular local option that stood out was the ability to blend your custard with the delicious brownies and blondies of locally-based Sugardaddy's. Also, a few non-custard food items like hot dogs and a couple of sandwiches (pulled pork and shredded chicken) are available at inexpensive prices (from $1.50 to $3.50.)

With butter pecan only available in a take home pint, I went two scoops ($4.25) for one of the limited-time flavors (black cherry chip) and the always offered vanilla in a cup. 

The custard at first glance looked like regular ice cream, but the mouthfeel immediately told me this was a different beast altogether. As I slowly devoured my scoops, I began thinking how all the soft-serve cones I have eaten in my life would've been so much tastier if Whit's was the source.

As for my choices, black cherry chip will please fans of the flavor with its plentiful chocolate chips and juicy cherry halves. The vanilla was solid; I thought, similar to a good basic frozen yogurt tart flavor, it provided great base for any of the blends, sundaes and creations on Whit's menu.

Whit's Short North store blends in nicely with the neighborhood vibe, with a relaxed yet funkified interior (including a graffiti-version company logo and assorted pop-culture references) and flyers and other printed information for nearby events available.

Whit's has definitely turned me on to the world of frozen custard based on this first sampling. I look forward to going back not only to sample more of their offerings, but also to compare and contrast that they offer to versions in other parts of the country, including those have popped up in my old Bay Area stomping grounds such as like Lexie's Frozen Custard and Frozen Kuhsterd.

2017 Update: Whit's locations around the metro have changed quite a bit since this post. The Short North location at 814 North High Street (the location I originally visited) and the Dublin location has closed.  Meanwhile, a location farther up in the Clintonville neighborhood has opened and the Hilliard location has relocated. Information regarding this Clintonville location has replaced the original Short North address as originally posted, and other addresses reflect current locations.

Whit's Frozen Custard
3339 N High St (Clintonville - Google Maps)
Columbus, OH 43202
(614) 754-8062

121 S. Stygler Road (Google Maps)
Gahanna, OH 43230

46 N, State St (Google Maps)
Westerville, OH 43081

4138 Main Street (Google Maps)
Hilliard, OH. 43026
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Comic Belief: The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum

Entrance to the museum at OSU's Sullivant Hall
Comics and the art of cartooning in general has gained some well-deserved attention in recent times as an art form worthy of critical analysis and acclaim. I had known about and visited two institutions in the Bay Area that helped foster and are a sign of this trend: the Charles Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa (everything about the author and his Peanuts comics you could ever want) and the Cartoon Art Museum in the South of Market neighborhood (showings from artists past and present that I've found cut across numerous social, pop-culture and cultural genres: both of these places are highly recommended if you travel out to the area.)

The well attired and comfortably roomy exhibition space 
I am delighted to have discovered a wonderful connection to my past stomping grounds in the form of the expanded space that now houses the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum, located on the second floor of Sullivant Hall at The Ohio State University. The museum, dedicated to the famed groundbreaking Columbus Dispatch editorial cartoonist, has the largest collection of collected comic and cartoon art in the world, including the formidable contents of the non-profit San Francisco Academy of Comic Art. The Academy had been founded by Bill Blackbeard in the 1960s out of his San Francisco home and its holdings accessible to the public. By the time circumstances forced Blackbeard to reach out to Ohio State to find a home for most of his collection in 1977, his holdings were enough to fill six semi-trailer trucks.

Mrs. 614orty-Niner and I had our first chance to visit the museum recently. While we were here specifically to catch the Calvin and Hobbes exhibition before the end of its run, we came away quite impressed by the museum as a whole.

As I learned more about Bill Watterson, the artist/cartoonist behind perhaps the most famous child and tiger duo ever, the more I came to respect his drive to break the newspaper comic norms of the time and to strive for something much more than just quick throwaway bit of humor wrapped in a doodle. I also admired him for essentially going out on top (though I personally had not detected any quality declines in his comic strip) and, more importantly, on his own terms. I was equally as enthusiastic to see the displays that provided some insight into Mr. Watterson's thinking and other talents as the Calvin and Hobbes comic strips themselves.

Insight into Mr. Watterson's thinking mixed with examples of his talent for painting.
Of course, my spouse and I were among the many people stopping by to relive some warm memories of Calvin and Hobbes themselves for one last time before the exhibition's closing, and there were plenty of strips around for viewing to accomplish this task.

A six-year-old and his tiger - an unstoppable combination
The museum has two rooms dedicated to short-term exhibits, and I admit I was not too familiar with the second featured comic artist, Richard Thompson. However, the museum did a great job of showing the breadth of Thompson's talents, which included illustrations done for the Washington Post and the comic strip Cul de Sac. This comic strip had an abbreviated run (2007 - 2012) that was unfortunately cut short due to the artist's battle with Parkinson's Disease.

Thompson's talents were made more than evident through the museum displays
A third exhibit space in the building acts as something of a "catch-all" room, where one can see a variety of comic art strips, panels and other memorabilia. Slide out drawers and pull-out panel displays cleverly increase the items available for viewing for visitors and adds a bit of personal interactivity with the material. However, the wide breadth of material in this room easily gives the viewer the impression that they are merely scratching the surface of the museum's vast collection.

There are more items than one might think in the museum's "catch-all" area
The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum is a no-longer hidden gem that is giving a traditionally under-appreciated art form its just due. While all exhibitions may not have the attraction level that Mr. Watterson's works had during its run, the wide breadth and depth of materials available to the curators should provide assurance for visitors of an educational, worthwhile and most likely fun experience.

Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum
The Ohio State University
110 Sullivant Hall (Google Maps)
1813 N. High Street
Columbus, OH 43210
(614) 292-0538
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Sandwiches Around The Statehouse: Freshbox Cafe

The cafe's entrance at the Trinity Episcopal Church
The symbiotic relationship that baseball and hot dogs has acquired over the years can easily be attached to lunchtime and sandwiches as well. With downtown Columbus around the Statehouse crawling with thousands of working folks on a typical weekday, plenty of food establishments have this ubiquitous item on their menus. Making this staple item something that stands out from the crowd, however, is something that takes some doing.

One way to distinguish a sandwich is on the culinary side, through the use of exceptional ingredients or a culinary variation (e.g. the Vietnamese bahn mi sandwich.) Another way to make it stand out lies in the people making your meal. It is this latter aspect that puts Freshbox in its own unique downtown lunchtime corner in two different ways.

Freshbox's Purpose Statement
The first of those lies in Freshbox Cafe's location, which resides in a very atypical location: the basement level of the Trinity Episcopal Church at the corner of 3rd and Broad Street in downtown. This location in essence gives away the second unique aspect of Freshbox: the cafe, along with their sister catering business, is owned by Lutheran Social Services, and is meant to offer meaningful employment to Central Ohio residents suffering from poverty and homelessness while giving the people of downtown Columbus
to satisfy their appetites through their food offerings.

The inside of the cafe is bright for a basement level space, dominated by a bright apple green color theme. Enough space and seating is available that one could bring in a nicely-sized group of colleagues for work or business and not feel crowded by lunchtime throngs of people.

The ordering counter and dining space
Freshbox's offers a fairly familiar selection of sandwiches/wraps ($5.79; all these choices come with a side sauce/dressing of some sort) and salads ($6.79). Additionally, a selection of assorted sides (including a soup of the day,) sweets (including a very rich turtle brownie and their signature chocolate-covered Oreo) and drinks (soda pop and bottled water.)

Based on my first few visits, Freshbox appears to be accomplishing their stated mission on both fronts. The employees I've encountered are friendly and service with quick. And while the items I have tried (Spring Turkey Salad, Thai Chicken Wrap and the Napoli Sandwich) wouldn't be considered fancy gourmet creations, they were all freshly made and solidly tasty. Freshbox Cafe will be in my regular rotation of downtown lunchtime spots for the foreseeable future.

2017 Update: Freshbox appears to have gone strictly back into the catering business. For information on how to utilize their catering services, please use the updated social media links below.

Freshbox Cafe
Basement Level of Trinity Episcopal Church
125 E Broad St (Downtown)
Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 859-9146
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Ice Cream Chronicles (Pt. 7): Love Handel's

The store front in Toledo, Ohio
Mrs. 614orty-Niner and I happened to be on the road in Northwest Ohio when we found out it was National Ice Cream Day. Obviously, it seemed seemed to be a shame on a warm summer day to miss out on some frozen goodness just because we were traveling, so we looked for a solution that wouldn't take us too far out of our way. Luckily for us, Handel's was around to save the day.

Handel's was originally established in 1945 in Youngstown in the northeast portion of Ohio. Alice Handel would produce her ice cream using old-fashioned recipes and fruit from her backyard and sell it out of her husband's gas station. Since then, Handel's has grown to thirty-plus stores spread out across six states, with two of those locations within the Columbus metro area.

Their ice cream has received "Best Of" commendations nationally, including prominent media outlets like People Magazine and USA Today. According to the company website, all of their ice cream and yogurt is produced fresh daily at their stores. The stores themselves have maintained a very distinctively-designed ice cream stand motif, with occasional exterior variations like their stores in California.

Just some of the many flavors available
If you want anything ice cream related, Handel's pretty much has it. Scoops, cones, sundaes, cakes, pies and pre-packaged pints are available, as well as creations like the Hurricane (very much akin to Dairy Queen's Blizzard) and a Handel Pop, which is a scoop of ice cream coated with a hard chocolate shell propped on a wooden stick. Handel's boasts about 100 flavors overall, including limited-edition and seasonal specials and occasional creative names like "Spouse Like A House" (malted vanilla ice cream with chocolate coated pretzels and peanut butter) and "Graham Central Station" (graham cracker ice cream with graham cracker chunks.)

With their sign touting a "Christmas in July" special, my spouse couldn't resist getting one of her favorite flavors, peppermint stick. I went with two scoops, with one of my standards (butter pecan) and one suggested by the friendly young lady manning the store (coffee chocolate chip.)

One thing we noticed immediately was how quickly the ice cream started to melt. Indeed, Handel's is by far the smoothest and creamiest of the ice creams texture-wise that we've had, and the melting only enhanced that mouthfeel.

Soft, smooth and perfectly melty
My spouse very much enjoyed the peppermint stick, but by far the star of the show for both of us was the butter pecan. This version was the definition of why I came to love the flavor so much as a child: big chunks of pecans with a base that combined the right amount of salty with sweet. This version basically blew any of the other butter pecans I have tried recently out of the water. Unfortunately, the coffee chocolate chip, the scoop at the bottom of my bowl, probably got the short shrift; there was nothing wrong with it, but by comparison to the butter pecan, it had no chance to impress.

There's an iconic ice cream picture motif that almost always brings a smile to all: a child enjoying his ice cream, with melted ice cream both coating their lips and cheeks, and little streams of their frozen treat flowing onto the hand grasping the ever-increasingly soggy cone. If I had to pick one ice cream out of those I've tried so far to put on that cone to get outcome, Handel's would be my nominee.

Of course, that's not the only scenario I would personally grab myself a scoop or two of Handel's. I mean, who needs unnecessary limitations in their life?

Handel's Ice Cream (location visited)
5908 W Sylvania Ave (Google Maps)
Toledo, OH 43623
(419) 882-1118

Columbus Metro Locations
5665 Feder Rd (Wexford-Thornapple - Google Maps)
Columbus, OH 43228
(614) 853-4464

399 West Olentangy St (Google Maps)
Powell, OH 43065
(614) 336-3813
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