IWD 500: Northern Michigan - Tandem Ciders; Brewery Vivant

Our recent Northern Michigan travels brought us to two destinations on somewhat opposite sides of the state that are worthy of a visit for their craft alcoholic beverages.

Tandem Ciders - This charming hard cider maker is located a bit off the beaten track in the tree-dotted rolling green hills that make up the interior of the Leelenau Peninsula. Thankfully, the large barn-like structure which houses this now six-year-old business, marked distinctly by a mounted tandem bicycle, all but ensures that visitors won't drive past.

Besides the main building, the property is marked by an apple orchard featuring the cidery's numerous apple varietals toward the rear as well as picnic tables where you can enjoy your cider outdoors.

The tasting room itself is a quaint space that maintains the barn motif, with a small bar area for customers there to sample their ciders. Bookshelves containing both apple- and bicycle-related books can be found behind the bar along with the keg system; themed art work only accentuates this heaven-like setting for cider seekers .

Tandem has a very consumer-friendly policy when it comes to sampling their ciders. Their four ciders on tap can be sampled for free; any cider that they bottle is also available for sampling for only $1 (save for their specialty Pomona; more on this later.)

We were highly impressed with all the ciders available, which ran a gamut of flavor profiles from sweet to tart, varietal oriented (i.e. their popular Smackintosh) and varying levels of dryness. Each cider had something unique that made choosing what to take back with us to Columbus a difficult decision. Eventually, we decided on the Pretty Penny (an intriguing blend of what is essentially the remnants of their 30 apple varietals used in their cider production; due to this, the taste is never the same year to year) and their Pomona (an intensely flavored Pommeau meant as an aperitif made by blending apple brandy and sweet cider and aging the mixture in oak barrels.)

Tandem Ciders
2055 N Setterbo Road (Google Maps)
Suttons Bay, MI 49682
(231) 271-0050
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Brewery Vivant - Opened in the unique setting of an abandoned funeral home chapel in December 2010, this Grand Rapids-based craft brewery has made their reputation on various takes of Belgian- and French-styled beers, accompanied by an upscale pub fare menu and anchored by a locally-focused and sustainable practices philosophy.

In this meetup with friends in the area, we opted for appetizers and two separate flights of their beers. Like the menu overall (entrees are in the $10 - $20 range), the appetizers are on the higher price point for pub fare, but you get a little more pizzazz for the money. The garlic & parsley Belgian Frites ($6) came with the requisite mayo-based dips and the Pork Belly Corn Dogs ($9) came with an intriguing rhubarb ketchup and a house-made mustard. Both items were quite tasty and had a little hint of decadence, especially the corn dogs.

Through careful planning, we were able to sample eight of their beers by ordering two separate flights (the Cambier Flight, priced slightly higher than the Vivant Flight, allows you access to most of their current higher gravity brews.) All the beer sampled was at least in the solidly good to grerat range, with the clear winner being Cemetarian (their Undertaker Belgian Dark Ale aged in oak and spiked with vanilla and coffee beans.) Their Agent á Deux, a collaboration beer with local doughnut maker Propaganda, also proved to be an intriguing taste as a dark Belgian ale brewed with currants, vanilla beans and rose petals.

Brewery Vivant
925 Cherry Street SE (Google Maps)
Grand Rapids, MI 49506
(616) 719-1604
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2019 Update: no major changes of note re: social media links.

Biking and Brunching: Hang Over Easy

Hang Over Easy (HOE) is something of an institution in the Columbus metro area. Located in the south campus area across the street from the OSU College of Medicine/Department of Pathology, this eatery caters to its primary surrounding population: college students. The name itself references the oft-experienced ritual of recovering from a night of revelry with a large hearty breakfast the morning after. The decor inside, from the six-pack beer cartons used for condiment storage to the numerous music, to the beer, music and movie paraphernalia scattered on all the walls has a generally youth-oriented appeal. If one desired, you can even start your revelry here with selection of bar-style food and a few brews.

Considering that my college days are well behind me and my appreciation for larger portion sizes has been toned down over the years, a place like Hang Over Easy wouldn't be a typical destination eatery for me these days. With that said, this restaurant has a special place in my heart: this was one of the first date places that Mrs. 614orty-Niner took me to on my trips to Columbus during our long-distance-date phase, and I do truly enjoy HOE for what it is and the food it serves. And on this particular bike and brunch day, this restaurant served a perfect purpose: fueling up to take on the revelry and high energy of an Ohio State University football game.

Game day brought in the Scarlet and Gray faithful in droves
Football game day for any Buckeyes' clash will put the service capabilities of any restaurant in the area to the test. I've always found the service at Hang Over Easy to be great, and this experience was no different this day. Despite the crush of Buckeye fans and the related long waits, the staff handled their customers with a smile and aplomb, customers didn't seem terribly miffed by the waits, and the food came out quickly all things considered.

Having a small bar in the front waiting area within easy access for waiting customers helps keep the mood light. While waiting for our table, my spouse and I jumped on their Vandermosa ($7) a winning mix of Vandermill Cider and orange juice that proved to be a nice twist on the traditional mimosa and a good start to the morning.

Starting from left: Chicken & Chorizo skillet; pumpkin
pancakes; some HOE wall decor, HOE chalkboard menu
The Hang Over Easy menu has a wide swath of options, and I recognized a few familiars from previous visits including the Dirty Sanchez (scrambled eggs, chorizo, HOE fries and queso in a flour tortilla, topped by more queso, cheddar, pico de gallo and sour cream) and the Menage a Trois (four pieces of french toast dusted with powdered sugar served with butter and syrup.)

What I was truly jonesing for was not on the menu this time (the Muffin Top: french toast with bananas, peanut butter and whipped cream served with syrup) so I opted for the Sausage Skillet ($8.99), a pleasing mix of nicely spicy sausage, onions, peppers and mushrooms served with two eggs (I opted for scrambled), queso, HOE fries and two slices of toast. The only quibble was the slightly underdone HOE fries, but this was understandable in the light of the game day crush.

My spouse and I spotted a chalkboard toting the availability of their seasonal pumpkin pancakes, and my spouse was more than happy to oblige. The pancakes, listed as "Struggling to Get Up" on their menu, are available in standard or seasonal versions and are mix-and-matchable. With that said, their pumpkin cakes were nicely flavored, with a firm exterior yet slightly pie-like interior, and were available at the same price as their regular pancakes ($5.25). Customers can fancy-up their pancakes with add-ons like chocolate chips and macerated berries as well, should they desire.

Everyday daily specials are available throughout the week; this week's selection included a Summer Spinach Salad (Monday), BBQ Hot Dogs (Wednesdays) and this weekend's Eggs in a Hole (a grilled cheese sandwich featuring American cheese and bacon with one over easy egg in each slice.) My spouse informed me that these specials do rotate in and out regularly, so one week's Monday special may not necessarily be the next week's Monday special.

While their breakfasts are the big attraction at Hang Over Easy, don't sell their lunch-time menu items short. While I have not personally had any of these items, my spouse (who has had more chances to eat at HOE due to her work location) gives her thumbs up to their Reuben sandwich and hamburgers.

2017 Update: The space which housed Hang Over Easy underwent renovations in the summer of 2016 and re-opened in the fall to serve its usual hangover relief comfort foods to the public.

Hang Over Easy
1646 Neil Ave (South Campus - Google Maps)
Columbus, OH 43201
(614) 586-0070
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If The Shoe Fits: At Home with the Buckeyes in 21 Pictures

In this previous blog post, I detailed my first experience with Buckeye fanaticism in my former stomping grounds, when Mrs. 614orty-Niner and I traveled back to the San Francisco Bay Area back in 2013 to watch Ohio State play the Cal Berkeley Golden Bears. When all was said and done, it felt very much like a home game for the visiting Buckeyes, as scarlet and gray made up more than half of the stadium and some OSU traditions made their presence felt in the Golden Bears' own Memorial Stadium.

However, as impressive as that was, I decided that my experience wouldn't be complete until I attended a Buckeye home game to get the true local flavor. Luckily for me, my spouse was able to score two tickets to the Buckeyes' game against Kent State University earlier this September as a work-related thank you gesture.

Being an Ohio State alum, my spouse helped give me a primer on what to expect in terms of traditions and other football-game related minutiae, and I went into this day excited about this first full fledged initiation. However, as I immersed myself in the game day experience, I realized that that this is something that has been experienced by millions of people prior to me, and has been written about tens-of-thousands of times before this particular blog post. In other words, writing about this experience wasn't going to bring out anything particularly revealing or surprising.

So why not keep the comments minimal and let the pictures do most of the talking? Sounds like a good game plan, almost as good as Ohio State's this particular day (poor Kent State never knew what hit them, as the Buckeyes went on to trounce the Golden Flashes 66-0.)

Doesn't matter who the opponent is, That Team Up North will always get drilled...
...or screwed, depending on your point of view (this flag never
did unfurl fully and cooperate for a solid picture)
The Kent State University band made it up for the festivities
Per tradition, these ROTC members did push-ups to match any change in the
Buckeyes' score. They were noodle-armed by game's end as they knocked out over 350.
The crowd starts to file into the stadium amid the tailgate parties
Brutus Buckeye did his best to rally the crowd as the Skull Session
at St. John's Arena came to a close and the march to the stadium begun.
Members of TBDBITL march toward the stadium

TBDBITL bass drummers pound out the marching rhythm
Quad tom players from the Alumni Band revved up the gathered even more
Alumni Band members stand at ease waiting to enter the stadium
Hard to tell in this photo, but TBDBITL members were getting energized
for their traditional ramp entrance. For awhile, it reminded me of a mosh pit
Stained glass Block O from inside the main stadium rotunda
The gathered 104,000-plus people rise to cheer the entrance of the band
Flag-bearers lead the football team onto the field
Buckeyes QB J.T. Barrett launches a pass toward a wideout streaking
wide open over the middle of the field
Seminal moment early in the game: embattled former band leader Jon Waters
takes the podium to lead the Alumni Band. Most people gathered at this end
end of the field gave Mr. Waters a long-lasting standing ovation.
One of many "H" formations performed by the audience. The mechanics of
and when to do the O-H-I-O movements are not natural for me
as a recent area newcomer, but I got better as the game went on.
TBDBITL performed a halftime show dedicated to the Armed Forces branches.
While these lower level end zone seats were great in general, the seats higher up
are the best for watching the band perform its formation wizardry.
Quadruple Script Ohio formations with Alumni Band members joining in.
Again, I wish I had a higher view for the band's show.
By the 4th quarter, most had left the game. The spouse and I were determined
to stick it out until the last note of "Carmen Ohio" had played.
While the blowout of Kent State was expected, the fact that the Buckeyes performed up to those expectations was actually promising. This week the Buckeyes face a tough test in their cross-state rivals: The Bearcats of the University of Cincinnati and their top-ten passing attack in terms of yardage. A solid win in this game would cement the promise I found in the Buckeyes at my first and rather memorable first home game ever at the Shoe.

Cincinnati Bearcats (unranked; 2-0)
Ohio State Buckeyes (#22; 2-1)
Saturday, September 27, 2014
6:00 PM  (BTN and BTN2)
Ohio Stadium
Columbus, Ohio

Sandwiches Around The Statehouse: The Carvery

The Carvery, the latest restaurant addition to the bustling Gay Street District, brings a gourmet touch into the crowded downtown sandwich scene. Their base menu centers on five sandwiches, anchored by their signature Porchetta, plus two special-of-the-day offerings (one meat- and one veggie-based), all served on their house-baked bread rolls. In fact, pretty much everything from their meats to their salad dressings are prepared from scratch and in-house.

I had prior sampling of their signature roast porchetta (quite good indeed) at a couple of Moonlight Markets held earlier this year, so I focused in on some of their other offerings on my first visits. Out of these, their roast turkey is my favorite so far: a dry-brine process leaves their turkey quite tender. Supplemented by two slices of their house-cured bacon with lettuce and tomato, it makes for a satisfying lunch. The meatball sandwich was also solid, with a slightly crumbly but tender mix of prosciutto, pork and beef, enveloped in a tomato sauce that played a middle ground between sweet and spicy.

Particularly popular sandwiches can be sold out for later arrivals (their special roast beef sandwich disappeared from the menu before I reached the cash register on one day), but The Carvery offers call-in service for those who don't want to miss out on a particular daily offering.

Clockwise from top: The turkey sandwich and slaw; the
Daily Specials banner; their signature porchetta, and
all manner of baked goods.
A salad option ($6; $2 with an additional protein) is available, along with various sides ($2 - $3) such as pasta salads, slaw and soup. It's hard to imagine anyone but the biggest eaters not feeling stuffed with a side and sandwich combo. Variations on sides tend to change with the day; a standard slaw (pleasant enough, with crisp veggie shards and a not-too creamy base) one day was a spicy poblano slaw (something that sounds more to my particular tastes) on another visit. On another visit, I had a roasted potato side that, while a touch oily, had a nice herb-filled flavor.

They also have a collection of baked goods (typically $1 to $3) at the front consisting of essentially whatever strikes the fancy of the staff that particular day. Their Coconut Surprise cookie was a tasty variation on the Girl Scouts' Samoa/Caramel Delite cookie. Also, those seeking a loaf of bread to take home have extra incentive to grab one from here based on what seem to be some really nice prices

The restaurant did a nice job of creating a fashionable interior, and putting in more seating than one might think would fit comfortably within this generally narrow space. However, their current setup has people backing onto the sidewalk during busy times; this isn't much of an issue in warmer weather, but may need to be looked at when the weather trends to the colder months.

Based on these first visits, The Carvery has sliced out its own distinct sector on the world of downtown sandwich purveyors by focusing on a select collection of quality-laden offerings and supplemental items. You may spend a bit more here than at most neighboring eateries, but you will be rewarded with fare that is a notch above the usual.

2019 Update: The Carvery closed for business in December 2017 due to a building plumbing issue. The owners of Lynn Alley's Si Senor have since taken over the space in October 2018 with their Peruvian fast-casual concept Criollo.

The Carvery
51 E. Gay Street (Downtown - Google Maps)
Columbus, OH  43215
(614) 221-2522
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IWD 500: Mission Table Restaurant, Traverse City, MI

The Jolly Pumpkin Restaurant entrance to the Bowers
Harbor Inn Estate, home of Mission Table
We had delayed our anniversary dinner on our recent Northern Michigan trip a few days, as Sault Ste. Marie was a bit devoid of places we wanted to celebrate a special dinner together. Instead, we figured Traverse City, which we would visit a few days afterward, would be more fertile ground for such an eatery.

My spouse and I had initially targeted The Cooks' House for our anniversary dinner, but alas our lateness in deciding our destination thwarted our attempts to obtain a reservation at this well-regarded eatery. However, they were kind enough to recommend Mission Table for our special dinner, which proved to be a worthy restaurant to celebrate our momentous occasion.

Unbeknownst to us, Mission Table is but one part of the Bowers Harbor Inn Estate. This historic estate was renovated and retooled in 2006 into a multi-purpose facility which included a distillery (Civilized Spirits), an event facility (the Peninsula Room), our recommended Mission Table Restaurant and Tasting Room, and a restaurant that we would more likely normally frequent (Jolly Pumpkin Restaurant and Microbrewery.)

The latter restaurant proved to be a pleasant surprise as we had arrived early for our dinner reservations, so we got to have a nice look around. Aside from the typical bar food options, the restaurant sported bottles and drafts of Jolly Pumpkin's ales as well as selections from Civilized Spirits and their sister brewery North Peak. We decided to grab a glass of a draft pouring of their Biere De Mars and it's tart almost cider-like profile proved to be an excellent pre-dinner starter.

Clockwise from top left: pan-seared Lake Trout, Maytag Blue
Cheese Cheesecake, Lamb Shank, Sunset on Traverse Bay
Mission Table is not really signed as such from the road, as it is essentially a fairly intimate room within the estate set aside for more exquisite dining options. Its interior mixes modern architecture with some rustic touches such as a large stone fireplace and wood plank tables. As we found out, a seat by the west-facing windows will treat you to a pretty tree-shrouded view onto Traverse Bay, which becomes more enhanced if you manage to have your meal timed with the sunset over the horizon.

The restaurant boasts about a menu that relies on local sourcing and seasonal ingredients. The smoked Michigan whitefish appetizer ($9), served with house-made flat bread, fennel, cucumber and a mustard sauce started our meal on the right foot with a cavalcade of flavors worth savoring.

Our main dishes were also well executed and tasty affairs. My spouse's lake trout ($26), a pan seared filet served with kale and potatoes in a smoked ham hock broth, proved to be the winner of the dishes. Not that there was anything wrong with my braised lamb shank with duck confit, white beans, escarole and duck jus. The lamb was cooked tender and fell off the bone and was a very rich dish. That fact, plus its sheer size, made it impossible me to finish as I was saving room for dessert.

My spouse again took the dessert honors as well; her cheese-loving genes were in high heaven with the Maytag blue cheese cheesecake topped by cherry compote, candied almonds and a honey gastrique was simply divine.

On the other hand, my flourless chocolate torte dessert was a bit of an odd duck. The components combined were good, but the individual components (the torte, the raspberry sorbet, chocolate sauce and the shortbread cookie) were outstanding on their own. Nevertheless, I was quite happy that I saved that room for this bit of decadence.

In the end, Mission Table lived up to its recommendation as a special occasion dinner destination and is worthy of seeking out when dining in the Traverse Bay area.

Mission Table
13512 Peninsula Dr (Google Maps)
Traverse City, MI 49686
(231) 223-4222
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2019: No updates of note needed re: social media links.

Golf Ball-Sized Fail: A Return to the Frustrating

The white-dimpled nemesis
One thing I have painfully found out over the past year or so (other than the true meaning of an Ohio winter): geographical relocation does not help your golf game.

Okay, twenty years of rust and aging doesn't help either. And moving out to the home metro of one of professional golfing's greatest ever, Jack Nicklaus, hasn't added one modicum of talent to my paltry skills either.

I suppose backtracking is in order here. Twenty years ago, I used to play golf weekly in a work-based league. If nothing else, the league provided me an opportunity to unwind, drink a few brews, enjoy time with co-workers outside of work and, every now and again, hit a shot that would make even Jack himself applaud. Eventually, circumstances changed and the league was no more, and slowly but surely my interest in the sport faded.

Then came last year, when a good friend of me and the Mrs. finally found that someone with whom the tie the knot. Part of his bachelor party itinerary, which I was invited to and accepted heartily, was golfing 18 holes. I thought to myself what a fun start this would be to a big night of celebration.

Then reality thunked into my brain like an errant tee shot: I hadn't even thought about striking that dimpled white ball in nearly two decades, nor did I have the equipment (save for a random assortment of golf balls) to do it with. I made a decision that this would be my "re-dip my toes in the water" trial: I'd make a minimal investment in some golf equipment and see if my interest came back again.

I've found Play It Again Sports a great resource for quality used and new sporting goods for a good price back in the Bay Area, and I was happy to find out the Columbus metro area had a few locations. I figured that in an area where golfing interest is higher than most, there would be a location rife with golfing equipment. Sure enough, the Hilliard location fit this bill nicely with a pretty nice inventory. In keeping with my minimal investment promise, I forked down about $80 for a pretty decent haul: an older standard set of clubs (including bag and putter,) gloves, the cheapest pitching/sand wedge I could find, and a bag of tees.

These folks could've had a good laugh if they just
looked over their shoulder...
My only practice session before the game took place in the southern portions of Dublin. Ables Golf on Avery doesn't look like much from the road, but it provides the facilities for basic practicing (a large hitting area, covered and outdoor tee areas and a pitching and putting green) plus a few extras (a putt-putt course geared toward kids, swing analysis, and teaching pros for either scheduled or walk-in golf lessons.)

As you might expect, this session was laughably bad. My body sort of knew what to do, but the results were nowhere near consistent. Never mind (unknown at the time) that I had bought a club set geared for someone about 3-4 inches taller than me. My typical slice was sort of there, but I threw in a few pulls, pop-ups, worm-burners, and even some almost-whiffs for good measure. The bachelor party match a couple days later wasn't much better, but the scramble format made it easy for me to contribute every now and again to our team's success.

Aiming is a relative term, right?
Since then, I've actually gained some insight into what has turned out to be a dabbling interest in this sport of exasperation. As alluded to previously, my clubs are made for someone a few inches taller than I am. The simple adjustment of choking up on my clubs has helped me strike the ball a lot more cleanly on most swings. On the other hand, the wedge and the putter I have have the totally opposite issue, being designed for someone more height-challenged than I. Yes, my intent was not to invest too heavily in this second dabbling, but nevertheless this experience fits that oft-repeated mantra: you get what you pay for.

Even now, the practice range still remains a yin and yang of promise and frustration, mainly divided along types of clubs. I have been hitting my woods (traditionally my favorite clubs anyway) about as well and as far as I ever have. On the other side, my irons are completely confounding pieces of metal. My shots are generally straight, but the distances are similar across groups of clubs (my 4-iron seems to go as far as my 6-iron, while I can hit my 9-iron as far as a 7-iron.)

Perhaps the ultimate decider will be getting a regular group of folks to play some golf with again. Golf is often times a frustrating pursuit, but when paired up with good company and some 19th hole refreshments, it's really not too bad a pursuit at all.

2019 Update: Social media links have been added for Play It Again Sports; also, links have been removed for Ables Golf on Avery, as it has closed its doors in November 2018 to make way for apartments.

Play It Again Sports
4720 Cemetery Road (Google Maps)
Hilliard, OH 43026
(614) 529-9100
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Ables Golf on Avery
5300 Avery Rd (Google Maps)
Dublin, OH 43016
(614) 529-9650

Food Trucks to the Second Power: Aromaku and Pitabilities

02/06/2019 Update: Pitabilities continues to provide its well-crafted pitas with its food truck fleet throughout the metro.  Aromaku, on the other hand, has undergone a change in ownership. Current social media links have not been active since December 2017; thus, we have been decommissioned the active links until we hear something further.

I was a big fan of the mobile truck scene in the San Francisco Bay Area during my time out there, and that love has transferred over after my move out here. I have personally have found it fun to seek out and sample this region's offerings, as well as to see Columbus getting some due for this growing scene with the recent debut of Eat Street segments featuring five of this metro's finest.

With food truck activity soon to wind down to more minimal levels with the oncoming seasonal changes, it seemed only appropriate to write about a few of my favorite mobile food vendors.

Pitabilities - Pita bread is one of the best multi-dimensional food items in my eyes. It fits well in your hands, it's sturdy enough to handle a variety of sauces, and you can vary the ingredients inside it and come up with a multitude of tastes to please most any palate.  Even the folks here acknowledge this fact; as stated on their menu, their item descriptions are only suggestions and that "the possibilities are endless."

Columbus' Pitabilities cooks up a menu that covers all the bases from relatively healthful (the veggie) to the more decadent (fried chicken tenders), and from the basic (a solid-tasting gyro) to something a little more fancy (their excellent Philly cheeseteak.) Prices for most of their pitas range around the $7 to $8 mark.

Besides pita-style sandwiches, Pitabilities has salads and (naturally) pita chip creations. One such creation, their Cinna Chips, should please about any sweet tooth. Freshly fried pita chips with cinnamon sugar would do the trick for most; throwing in a generous drizzle of your choice of chocolate, raspberry, vanilla or caramel on top takes this simple side over the top.

I've pretty much enjoyed everything I've ordered from Pitabilities. Those who aren't quite sure what they're in the mood for could do a lot worse than stop by this food truck to ponder their menu suggestions...and maybe even a few more possibilities to boot.

For the latest info on their upcoming locations, please consult the following

Facebook     Instagram     Street Food Finder     Twitter     Website

Aromaku - I got my first taste of Indonesian food in that wonderful food melting pot of Malaysia,where you could find at least a decent version of just about any fare imaginable alongside the native checkerboard of Malay, Chinese and Indian-influenced cuisines.

I had kept my eye out for Malay cuisine since my return back to the states, but neither the San Francisco Bay Area nor Columbus (I never did get to try out the now defunct Merlion, unfortunately) had much out there to target for a visit. Thankfully, Aromaku is around to provide a slightly tangential but no less tasty road back to those days.

Generally speaking, Aromaku's standard menu centers on four Indonesian or Indonesian-influenced main items ($7 - $9) with a couple of sides. On our first visit, we ordered and found their signature Rendang (served with either rice or roti prata, a flour-based pancake) a satisfying dish. While the menu showed it bracketed with a hot pepper symbol, this version was more flavorful spicy vs. heat-based spicy. But while the Rendang was good, we found their Ayam Bakar even better. The spicing used took this a notch beyond ordinary grilled chicken, and the meat itself was grilled perfectly, with not a dry piece in the bunch.

We had ordered a side of their veggie rolls (Lumpia Sayur; 3 for $2) on this first visit that were merely okay; a return visit a couple months later had a menu that boasted of a better version. Indeed, this lumpia rendition seemed more like a Filipino version, and a tasting proved their menu claim to be correct, reminding me of some of the delicious versions I ate in my household growing up.

On this second visit, I also went with a Rendang, but with a slight twist. Their menu boasted of a "better than Skyline (Chili)" Rendang Chili, a mixture of their rendang sauce and ground beef served over your choice of tortilla chips, fries or noodles. With the Skyline reference, the choice was obvious: I had to order it with the noodles.

As it turned out, this chili was really the perfect drunk (or keep yourself from getting drunk) food (and yes, that is a compliment.) Whether one finds this unique fusion item better than Skyline Chili's creation is a matter of personal taste, but I found this a scrumptious and tummy-filling complement for any of the beer being served by Zauber Brewing next door.

For the latest info on their upcoming locations, please consult the following
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IWD 500: Traverse City Area

2019 Update: social media links have been updated as well as Google Maps info added. 

Our recent journey into Northern Michigan took us into Traverse City, one of the prime cherry-growing regions of the world and home of the National Cherry Festival in July.

Of course, Traverse City has much more than this fruit to recommend it to travelers; some of our more interesting encounters are documented below:

Cherry Republic: we had missed out on the peak of cherry season in Traverse City, though there were plenty of roadside stands still selling their harvest. However, all is not lost - if you want anything (and I mean anything) remotely cherry-related, you'll more than likely find it at this local institution. A place like this was a must stop for us, with my spouse being a self-proclaimed cherry-holic.

Cherry Republic has four locations spread out over Northern Michigan. Dropping by their location in downtown Traverse City, we found out that similar to a place like Costco, customers can sample an array of their products, including beverages, sweets, salsas, trail mixes and preserves. And who are we to refuse such generous circumstances.

You might be able to find specific products more cheaply at other places, but if you've got a wide and varied gift list, this is probably as good as it gets for getting all your shopping done in one fell swoop. Bonus points if you can spot their salute to the country of Poland on their store interior (apparently their country's farmers came through big time after a freak weather pattern killed off most of the state's crop in 2012.)

Cherry Republic
154 E Front St (Google Maps)
Traverse City, MI 49684
(800) 206-6949
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Wuerfel Park: this baseball stadium looks more like a modern-styled apartment complex or shopping mall from the outside, but the inside reveals a little gem of a ballpark. Home of the Frontier League's Traverse City Beach Bums, this stadium has varied seating options and are quite affordable (even a private suite or table will run you only $20-$25 per person if you max out the capacity.)

Likewise, food is very respectably priced and covers all the standard stadium staples. A few more unique beverage choices can be found at Wuerfel, including some Bell's Brewery craft beer and soda pop made by Grand Rapids based Northwoods.

Those attuned to baseball's major leagues will be able to see that the talent is generally a notch lower. However, this does not detract one bit from the effort and passion put out by the players as they perform on the field. Perhaps for some of these folks, dreams of getting picked up by or receiving the call back to the major leagues will be realized (almost 30 players who have played in the Frontier League have received that call in the league's 21 years of existence.)

Nor does this lessen the fun a family group or baseball fan can have at these games. We both sensed that everyone associated with the league knew that pleasing the fan was the prime directive, a refreshing change from most bigger money sports. The ultimate example of this was a player from the visiting Lake Erie Crushers (currently the only Ohio-based team in the league) handing a no longer usable bat to a boistrous (in a good way) home-team-rooting child sitting next to us. The sheer joy and thrill he expressed after receiving his prize could not help but bring a smile to your face.

Wuerfel Park
333 Stadium Drive (Google Maps)
Traverse City, MI 49685
(231) 943-0100

2019 Update: The Beach Bums are no more; the team and stadium was sold to new owners and will now be known as the Traverse City Pit Spitters of the Northwoods League.  For more information, please check out their website.

The Little Fleet: This was a completely chance find, as we headed into Traverse City with no definite lunch plans nor any real prior research as to the town's lunch options. However, we were absolutely thrilled to find something that promised a change of pace from what had been restaurants heavily weighted toward American and bar food items.

Essentially (with slight variations) Traverse City's version of Columbus' Dinin' Hall, visitors will find a parking lot anchored by The Little Fleet bar filled with eight locally-based mobile food trucks and/or trailers. Food items and non-alcoholic drinks are ordered at the individual trucks or trailers themselves. An intriguing option exclusive to this food court (which I later regretted not trying) was a specially bottled grapefruit-jalapeño soda pop.

Those who are seeking something alcoholic with their meal can order something inside the bar. My spouse and I opted for this option and found a gem in the Northern Natural Cranberry Ginger Cider. I went for the New Holland Full Circle Kolsch, which fit the bill of something lighter to go with my meal.

The spouse and I went different routes in breaking up our culinary ruts; she went with the most unconventional thing on the Anchor Station food truck's fairly conventional menu (burgers, dirty fries, and nachos) and was rewarded with a solidly made falafel sandwich. On the other hand, I went completely unconventional and ordered up the most strange sounding grilled cheese from the menu of the EZ Cheesy trailer: the Tampopo ($6), which consisted of ramen, kimchi, shaved brussel sprouts, plus melted mozzarella and cheddar on brioche. Personally, I would've preferred if the sandwich had more prominent kimchi and brussel sprout flavor profiles, but it was enough of a curveball from what I had been eating that it satisfied my taste buds in the end.

2017 Update: The Little Fleet Food Truck Court continues strongly, though EZ Cheesy may have given up the ghost based on their Facebook activity.  Updated social media information and the current food truck listings are linked below.

The Little Fleet Food Truck Court & Bar
448 E. Front St (Google Maps)
Traverse City, MI 49686
(231) 943-1116
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Salads Around the Statehouse: Market 65

It seemed only appropriate to include Market 65 in this latest list of eateries around the Ohio Statehouse, but in this case, salads are the specialty, not sandwiches (although you can get any of their creations in wrap form.)

Most around here would liken Market 65 as a Chipotle-style salad/wrap casual eatery. Coming from Bay Area, it reminds me a lot more of Mixt Greens, a San Francisco area lunchtime staple. 

Both places specialize in fresh salads and sandwiches/wraps made with produce from local providers and offering unique options (e.g. tofu) to customize one's salad. In fact, Market 65 was one of the first places I knew about in the Downtown area to tout its connections to local producers. It had been awhile between visits for me, but it was nice to see that local angle hadn't changed. Numerous local produce providers (That's My Farmer and Lucky Penny being two I was familiar with) were referenced on chalkboards, and products from locally-based vendors (Pattycake Bakery and JC's Sweet Tea, among others) were available for purchase.

Similar to Mixt Greens, Market 65 offers some staple creations, or the customer can opt to build their own wrap/salad. Both places offer a selection of house-made dressings to add to your meal.  

Here is where some subtle differences between the two similar concepts emerge. Mixt Greens offers a few select sandwiches and typically includes a piece of bread with your salad order; Market 65 does not have that option. But the downtown area has plenty of places to grab an actual sandwich so this really isn't a negative in my eyes.

Another subtle difference is that Mixt Greens has all their salad ingredients prepared in advance. Market 65 also has most of their stuff prepared in advance, but some of this grunt work is done before the customer's eyes. While this adds some time to an already relatively slower assembly line process compared to, say, a burrito or standard sandwich, there's something reassuring about watching parts of your salad or wrap being sliced freshly from the source and added to your order. However, if you are confined to a shorter time for lunch, Market 65 may not work for you.

The big difference really lies in price and quantity, and this is where the advantage of being in Columbus shines through for me. I find that I can get an order of the same quality and more quantity at Market 65 than I could at Mixt Greens....and pay about a couple bucks less for it than their West Coast compatriot. With that said, their main items are on the higher edge of the low-end price range of downtown eateries overall (basically between $7 and $11.)

A unique aspect of Market 65 is its beer and wine bar, where you can find a select number of bottled wines and beers as well as a couple of beers on tap (the list I spied showed Fat Head's Amber Ale and Columbus Brewing's IPA as their options.)

My latest get, a fish taco salad special with tilapia, black beans, avocado, serrano peppers, roasted corn (sliced right from the cob) and tortilla strips mixed in with romaine lettuce and their recommended dressing, was filling and tasty.

Overall, I've been quite satisfied with the quality and tastiness of the items I've ordered from Market 65, and the servers I've had always have been friendly and amiable. Those looking for a healthier lunch option with locally sourced produce and other products who are not in any kind of rush would be well served to drop by Market 65.

2019 Update: According to their website, Market 65 is working both on a new menu as well a website revamp.

Market 65
65 E State St (Downtown - Google Maps)
Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 564-6565
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First Look: La Moreliana Mexican Grill

A fortunate combination of being on the road and a timely tweet from the one and only Breakfast with Nick himself (thank you!) brought me to this newly opened food truck stationed on Indianola Avenue in Clintonville.

The food truck itself will be familiar to many aficionados of the fine eats of El Arepazo, as it once held their offshoot Yerba Buena Latin Grill. Focused on a variety of Latin-based (mainly Venezuelan and Peruvian) dishes, this food truck's demise was lamented by quite a few (including this author, who could never get the timing right to pay it a visit.)

The new incarnation, opened since Monday, is in line with the traditional Mexican taco truck. Their menu currently consists of the staple street tacos, burritos and tortas, plus a selection of Mexican-based pop beverages. The owners indicated that tamales and soups will be added in the future to their menus on weekends (for those who wish to sample their tamales, they will have a chance to do so this Thursday.)

The two street tacos ($1.50 each) I ordered showed promise: both the pork and chorizo had a nice savory kick to them. The red and green salsas were also nice: my spouse detected a touch of habañero with the red salsa, while the green salsa had a more of a thicker, slightly chunky consistency (perhaps a touch of avocado?) than most.

Operating hours will cover the lunch and dinner hours (10:30 AM - 8 PM) but my impression is they'll be fine-tuned in the future. Limited outdoor seating is available in the form of a table and a few chairs.

La Moreliana Mexican Grill
4490 Indianola Avenue (Clintonville)
Columbus, OH 43214

2017 Update: La Moreliana closed up operations as of the summer of 2015

IWD500: Mackinac Island (Pt. 2)

Pt. 1 of our adventures on Mackinac Island can be found at this post here.

After lunch, we decided to drop by what is perhaps Mackinac's most famous landmark. The Grand Hotel, constructed in 1887, is a grandiose structure in numerous ways, built originally by railroad and steamship companies to create an ultimate destination for that era's traveler.

The Grand Hotel in all its glory
Throughout the years, it has remained such a destination for many of the island's visitors. Its depiction in movies such as the Christopher Reeve/Jane Seymour romantic vehicle Somewhere In Time has helped spread its reputation around the world.

On my past visit to the island nearly two decades ago, the fee charged to non-guests ($5 at the time) was collected at the front entrance and gained them limited access to the hotel's interior. Since then, the non-guest fee has gone to twice as much ($10; not too surprising) and is now required to go past the property's periphery. There's no denying the hotel's grandiose nature, showy interior decor and the idyllic image of privilege it puts forth to the public. For the non-guest, payment of the $10 fee is really going to depend on individual tastes and personal itineraries; we decided that on this day that we had other places that were higher on our priority scale and opted not to venture further.

The unique Arch Rock
From there, we traveled on foot to two of Mackinac's geological features. Skull Cave has an intriguing name and a couple of interesting stories attached to it (basically, the cave was used as a "storage" place for human remains; also, fur trader Alexander Henry hid here when Fort Michilimackinac on the mainland was overtaken by Native Americans during Pontiac's War.) However, it really is not much to look at from the outside, and there is no access to the interior.

More picturesque and worth the journey across the island is Arch Rock. Held as a place of reverence and fear by Native American peoples, this formation is uncommon in two aspects: a natural arch is something of a geological rarity east of the Mississippi River and consists of an uncommon material (Breccia limestone.) Bicycle riders on the island can double their pleasure with Arch Rock by grabbing a glance upward from lake level from the road below, and then circling back to get the close up view. Those on foot down at the bottom can also opt for a bit of a physical challenge by taking a staircase up to the top.

We rambled back down on something of a side trail to visit Marquette Park, basically the landscaped grassy area in front of Fort Mackinac. Other than providing a place for island-goers to sit back and relax or have a picnic, the main attractions are a bark chapel, meant to replicate a structure the original Jesuit missionaries would've constructed to hold their services, and the statue dedicated to the most influential of this area's missionaries, Father Jacques Marquette.

One of the best things about the ticket to Fort Mackinac is it allows you to access more living history displays located in downtown-area buildings run by the Michigan State Park. These displays include the medical breakthroughs made via research of a Fort Mackinac-based soldier whose abdominal wound did not heal property, as well as cooking and blacksmith demonstrations.

Our time on the island was closed out with stops at two island eateries. Lucky Bean Coffeehouse is one of a few places where one could grab a cup of coffee on the go, but is slightly off the beaten path, as it lies a street behind the main drag of downtown. The interior had a bit of a friendly, California Bay Area vibe (I even noticed a staff member with a shirt referencing Walnut Creek, CA); the iced tea and coffee my spouse and I picked up were definitely a step up from the typical renditions put out from its more well-known neighboring competitor (that begins and starts with a letter "S") located on Main Street.

Also, we stopped to pick up a little bit of fudge from The Original Murdick's Fudge Shop. My spouse and I are not huge fudge eaters, but we figured we couldn't NOT get some of this sweet treat. They did not have the live demonstration of the fudge making process actively going on when we arrived, but otherwise they had all the requisite decadent-sounding flavors. Our server seemed a little bit grumpy, but we did get our chunks of chocolate pecan and chocolate sweet black cherry, which tasted just fine and were consumed slowly over the next week.

Finally, we caught our ferry back to the mainland and purposely picked the Star Line Ferry that went underneath the Mackinac Bridge. Windy conditions had prevailed over the lake waters all day long, which made for a very wet ride for those riding on the exposed top portion of the ferry. A few folks were scared inside after the first few waves crashed over top, but for us it was an exhilarating time. The calm of coasting underneath the Mighty Mac allowed us to catch our breath and take in what had been a good day out on the island.

2019 Update: links have been checked and updated as needed

Star Line Ferries
711 S. Huron (Google Maps)
Mackinaw City, MI 49701
587 N. State Street (Google Maps)
St. Ignace, MI 49781
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Original Murdick's Fudge Shop
7363 Main St (Google Maps)
Mackinac Island, MI 49757
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Lucky Bean Coffeehouse
7383 Market St (Google Maps)
Mackinac Island, MI 49757
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