Tried and True: Mozart's Cafe

Mozart's has settled in nicely after their 2013 move to North Clintonville
Mozart's Cafe holds a very special place in the hearts of me and my spouse. At their old location in Clintonville (now occupied by Harvest Pizzeria and Kitchen - see my recent post here) and being official long-distance daters for just months, we fell into a fairly deep conversation about the type of house and neighborhood in which we wanted to eventually settle down (definitely not the type of talk you have for a passing fling of a just-because affair.) At our wedding ceremony, we bought one of their delicious carrot cakes to serve as our celebratory dessert. And there was (and still is) something simply relaxing about dropping by on a lazy weekend to grab one of their pastries with a cup of coffee accompanied by strains of music from a live pianist.

The pianist still remains, but the menu and interior
have expanded for the better
Founded in 1995 by Anand and Doris Saha (who met in Switzerland and brought the European theme to Columbus), Mozart's announced they were moving to expanded space in the more northern reaches of Clintonville that originally held the Beechwold Tavern and, more recently, a Cord Camera. This also would allow them to bring their offshoot Vienna Ice, specializing in European-styled gelato and ice cream (and definitely worth a sampling, if you're in the mood), under the same space. After a few delays, the space opened up in August 2013 and, based on our experiences, Mozart's has definitely made the most of their move.

The increased space has allowed Mozart's to expand their horizons on several fronts. Larger events can easily be handled in private dining areas; in general, larger groups can be handled a lot more easily in the common area. For warmer days, patrons can grab a seat in the patio outdoor patio area in front of the restaurant to enjoy the warmer temperatures. In addition to their traditional pianist, Mozart's now holds a wider variety of live music events. And of course, the afternoon tea tradition continues as strong as ever.

Menu options have been broadened for the better as well. Thanks to an approved voter initiative, Mozart's has acquired a liquor license which has allowed the restaurant to offer a variety of wines and beer; mead from Columbus favorite Brothers Drake is also available.

From pastries to breakfast and onward, Mozart's
expanded menu remains satisfying
Their hearty European-fare menu (most breakfast and brunch items are hover around $10; dinner-oriented items are in the $13 - $16 range) remains solidly satisfying, and has been enhanced with the addition of some select well-received items and more American-styled offerings such as Angus burgers. In addition, meal portion sizes may have actually increased a bit with no loss in tastiness: on my parents' recent visit to Ohio, we found that the breakfast sandwiches were more than enough for a meal and made for some good leftovers. Their quiches are almost always on the consideration lists of my spouse and I whenever we visit, and their schnitzel seems to have been improved compared to the past.

Of course, I can't possibly not talk about their European-style pastries. It's hard to pick a favorite, but their Plunder (especially their poppyseed variety) is one of my all-time favorite sweet treats in the area, flaky and sweet without being too cloying. They have expanded their other offerings as well, adding tortes and other delectable-looking treats to their daily display cases. It would seem almost impossible to not find anything at Mozart's that wouldn't satisfy your sweet tooth.

Perhaps the most satisfying thing I have come to know, both pre- and post-move, is the love and support that the Sahas and the Clintonville community mutually share for one another. Their annual birthday party, which corresponds with the founding of their business as well as the birthday of their namesake classical composer, now draws thousands of people and is perhaps the most definitive expression of how Mozart's has become a true local treasure.

4784 North High Street (Clintonville/Old Beechwold - Google Maps)
Columbus, OH 43214
(614) 268-3687
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November Travelogue: Disco in the Desert

Signage found on the highway to Palmyra
The high desert terrain of Syria west of Damascus is a lot like what one would find in the desert southwest region of the United States. Every now and then, unlike its American counterpart, you'll catch sight of a blast area where rock was harvested for buildings or foundation purposes, or spot the encampment of a Bedouin tribe, nomadic people who had to discontinue or adapt many of their traditions due to both weather (a mid 20th century drought forced many to abandon as herders) and Syrian government policies.

This particular November in the late 2000's was the longest and farthest away I had been from closest friends and family. It was certainly not anywhere I thought I would be, much less consider going, given the rather contentious history and shaky (at best) relationship between my birth and current host country. But a work opportunity came my way, and the region was about as peaceful as one could have hoped for the time of my visit.

On this day, a few of my co-workers and were crammed in a passenger van on a chartered trip to see the ancient Roman ruins in Palmyra. We really did not figure it out until much later in our travels, but Palmyra (a name derived from the city's Aramaic name of Tadmor, which translates to "palm tree") is indeed the proverbial oasis in the middle of the desert, acting as a vital resting spot for caravans traveling the major east-west trade routes in ancient time.

Traveling to where ancient Romans and trade caravans have passed through for centuries
On this day, the only caravans we saw were fleets of tanker trucks chugging to and from neighboring Iraq. They were a constant reminder of the presence of crude oil, one the more recent reasons that this area has seen so much added tumult over the past few decades. Another similar reminder was the several places that claimed to be the "Bagdad Cafe." Apparently, the one with the "66" on it is the one to visit from the limited information I have been able to read from web-based sources.

If you believe the reviews, this is the correct "Bagdad Cafe" to visit for some good eats
At the time of our trip, our group was still getting used to the sights of Damascus, Syria's capital city. Considered by some to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, Damascus had its fair share of Western influence (I learned a building with a big Sony logo was a great way to orient yourself in that part of town, and the Four Seasons was about the best place in town to get a $9 can of Diet Coke) mixed in with its more ancient aspects. On our first trip away from city limits, we figured we wouldn't get much if anything Western-culture related, especially in the middle of the desert.

Our group had been chatting at a good level as we traveled from the center of Damascus and through the suburb areas, but we quieted down as we reached the more desolate parts away from the metro. The driver, who I am certain has done this trip for folks like us hundreds of times and, if nothing else, wanted to stay awake, asked us if it was okay to turn on the radio. No one objected.

This was my first experience with Syrian radio, and it was apparent we had tuned in to a station from Aleppo, the largest city in the northern reaches of the country. However, the strains of the first song we heard woke everyone out of their semi-stupor that had overtaken us.

The 4/4 beat, orchestral strains, sultry swaying sound of a song that typified a brief and, some say, regrettable era in American pop music...we stared at each other, as if to confirm we weren't individually hallucinating from dehydration and desert heat.

The Bee Gees? "More Than a Woman"? We were all sucked in to that beat and those familiar lyrics..

Oh say you'll always be my baby
We can make it shine
We can take forever just a minute at a time

And then it happened, as a group. In imperfect harmony, we sung out:

More than a woman
More than a woman to me
More than a woman
More than a woman to me

In the middle of the Syrian desert, the Gibb Brothers were leading us on to Palmyra...

Thanks for reading, and may you all have the safest of travels and the best of Thanksgiving holidays.

Playing Their Respects: The Jimi Hendrix Tribute Show (11/21/2014:Rumba Club)

Jimi Hendrix would have turned 72 (72? Goodness, that fact makes me feel older than I am) this November 27 had he still been alive today. Columbus musical artists have been doing their part to keep this legendary guitarist's memory alive around this time of the calendar with a local annual tribute show that has now been held for eight years running.

In general, I have come to appreciate the diversity of the Columbus music scene (my appreciation of previously ignored genres like bluegrass has increased hundred-fold via the shows held at Rambling House Soda Pop) and have noticed a real camaraderie and sense of support among this area's musicians. This was no different at this particular tribute show, the last two of which have been hosted in the North Campus area music venue Rumba Café.

My spouse and I caught our first Hendrix tribute show together last year and were quite impressed by the talent displayed by the musicians who played that night. That didn't prepare us for this year's version, where every performer basically came out on top of their game and did themselves proud, keeping a nicely-sized crowd entertained and cheering throughout. These pictures are but a taste of what was more than a worthy tribute to Jimi this night.

Jeffro Jam of Playhouse and Sasafraz kicked things off with Jimi's iconic version
of the Star-Spangled Banner. He added an intriguing interpretation of what
Jimi would've done with Prince's "Raspberry Beret" and added some sizzlng
vocals to a sizzling "Third Stone from the Sun" with David Martinez and company
The crowd was warmed up nicely by a solid set by Kenny Caterer,
front man for Doctor Kenny Delicious
The energy level raised a few notches when Chris Connor, lead guitarist for local
area up-and-comers Angela Perley and The Howlin' Moons took the stage. It didn't hurt
when Angela herself joined in to belt out some Hendrix classics.
Theo Perry, of Theo's Loose Hinges and The Floorwalkers, had a tough act
to follow, but he seemed to channel Jimi himself as he delivered
soulful and sublime take on several Hendrix songs.
Midwest Dissenters' guitarist David Martinez kept things at a high
level with his spirited guitar work and a little help from his friends
Throughout it all, Nathan Smith of Theo's Loose Hinges and
local-area stalwart Maxwell Button  handled the backing bass and
drumming for all performers throughout the night with aplomb.

Rumba Café
2507 Summit Street (North Campus)
Columbus, OH 43202
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Fáilte roimh ár dteach: Rambling House Soda Pop

As the weather turns toward the colder, the value of a warm and cozy house is amplified even further. One house that I've found fits that bill to a tee for its unique blend of music, atmosphere and craft-brewed beverages is the Rambling House, located on the border of Clintonville and Old North Columbus (an interesting debate on the neighborhood Rambling House lies in can be found here.)

The Rambling House is truly a family affair, led by owners and husband and wife John and Jennifer Lynch. John Lynch has explained in previous media interviews that in traditional Irish culture, the "rambling house" was a regularly organized event that provided local residents of a town or region province a venue for entertainment in various forms, including song and music. This particular Rambling House provides that venue in the form of its Old Time Jam on Sundays, when musicians gather and jam away on their instruments, as well as regularly scheduled shows focused mainly on bluegrass and folk music. Coupled with a reasonable cover charge, my spouse and I have found ourselves enjoying some wonderfully talented local and regional artists on several occasions.

The interior of Rambling House provides a relaxed and comfortable venue for musicians and audience members alike. The seating and stage area reminds me personally of a large living room: curtains and lamps bracket the musicians' stage, with communal long tables and casually spaced individual seating areas available for visitors. Music-oriented and/or local-referenced art prints are scattered on the walls throughout. Empty bulk coffee shipping bags cover windows and adds a tinge of garage to the overall environment. On certain busier nights, food trucks have been parked nearby to provide a food option for customers.

The interior of Rambling House reminds me of a warm, cozy living room
The bar area lies toward the back of the space. In a world dominated by big brands like Coca-Cola and Pepsi, soda pop is not typically associated with the words "craft brewed" by the general populace. However, Rambling House has carved out a niche in this metro area with their flavorful home-crafted renditions of this staple. Initially, Lynch had intended to open up a craft beer brewery, but the substantial start-up costs made them turn towards their sodas instead. Favorable reception of their sodas at places like the downtown Pearl Market and Comfest as well as the picking up of several local places to carry their product (the current places that carry their soda can be found on their website) led to the development of their space to its current status.

Unlike their corporate brethren, Rambling House's creations are meant to be savored, whether in their pure form or in a cocktail (Rambling House has a select menu of cocktails available mixed with a variety of locally produced spirits.) Typically, four flavors are on the menu - ginger beer, Columbus cola and sarsaparilla are almost always offered along with a seasonal flavor, For those who can't make it to their music venue, Rambling House Soda is served on tap and available in growlers at a select number of Columbus restaurants and markets. In addition, a nod to Lynch's craft beer background and support of the local scene is reflected in their bottle and draft list, which features a select number of offerings from Ohio-based brewers.

Great music combined with tasty locally-crafted beverages is tough to beat
Rambling House Soda is currently in the midst of trying to expand their operations to add more bottling and keg-filling capacity and is holding a Kickstarter campaign which ends in mid-December to get this accomplished. Regardless of this campaign's success (and I personally hope it does succeed), Rambling House Soda is truly a unique gem both in the music and culinary scene of Columbus. It's not really surprising that Lynch and this otherwise unassuming hangout has gotten attention from folks outside of Columbus like The Daily Meal. While that is indeed nice recognition, I'm sure Lynch would be quite satisfied with many happy customers filling their ears with wonderful music and filling their growlers with his sublime soda pop.

Rambling House Soda Pop
310 East Hudson Street (Old North Columbus)
Columbus, OH 43202
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Sandwiches Around The Statehouse: AJ's Cafe

Generally speaking, Indian restaurants are not within easy reach of workers in close vicinity to the Statehouse; at last check, Flavors of India in the Arena District and Indian Oven in the Discovery District are the closest options.

However, those in and around the Statehouse who are craving a little bit of Indian spicing in their lunchtime meal need not fret too much with AJ's cafe within earshot.

The owner and namesake of AJ's cafe is quite familiar to the Columbus dining scene: Ajay Kumar had been the owner of longtime North Campus area institution Taj Mahal. This restaurant, whose hallmarks were its Northern Indian cuisine and Kumar's hospitality, closed down after three decades in the summer of 2013 for various reasons, including Kumar deciding that he needed to take a break from the business.

As it turned out, Kumar realized after some time off that he missed the restaurant world, but he knew going back to full-time restaurant operations  was not an option. After doing some research and exploration, he figured a little breakfast and lunchtime cafe was the perfect compromise.

AJ's Cafe has a very roomy interior, with plenty of space between tables and even a couple of cushy chairs that seem perfect for hanging out for a bit. Those who decide to spend some time to be hang inside will find some good brew made from Upper Cup Coffee, one of Columbus' best coffee roasters located in the Olde Towne East neighborhood.

The real treat at AJ's lies in their specialty items, where traditional Indian spices have been integrated to create a uniquely savory (but not heat-inducing) flavor profile. The Raja Wrap offers the diner a pleasing blend of Tandoori chicken in a bed of rice, red onions and jalapeños topped with cilantro chutney. Meanwhile, The CTM offers traditional chicken tikka masala with cheddar cheese and lettuce in a Panini. Other unique offerings include the vegan Spiced Chickpea Wrap (a blend of rice, spinach, chickpeas, onions, tomatoes and tamarind chutney) and the Tilapia Torpedo, featuring a baked tilapia filet with cilantro chutney, lettuce and tomato on a torpedo-shaped roll.

Left to Right: the Raja Wrap, Lentil Soup, and the CTM
More traditional sandwiches are also available, either freshly made or previously prepared to-go for those on the run. My roast beef melt was just about as good as any other you'd find around the area. Salads and soups are also available; a personal favorite of mine is the lentil soup. The texture reminds me of some of the wonderfully satisfying lentil soups I've had in the Middle East but with an Indian spicing twist.

Breakfast items are also served, with the unique item being the Zen Wrap, a mix of rice, carrots, lentils and spinach along with sliced apples dressed with a tamarind/cilantro vinaigrette.

The other major reason to drop by this downtown cafe is Ajay himself: his hospitality to his customers is still quite evident, and quite a few customers (including myself) have enjoyed the chance to chat with him as their lunch is cooking up or as time allows.

2017 Update: The space where AJ's Cafe resided was sold by owner Kumar in September 2016; in its stead, The Corner Deli has set up shop.  Please consult their Facebook page for more information on their offerings

AJ's Cafe
152 E. State St (Downtown)
Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 223-3999
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The Commissary Block Party

Incubator kitchens are an increasingly utilized and effective tool for fostering food businesses in a number of communities across the country. In San Francisco, the Mission District-based La Cocina has been on the leading edge of assisting low-income entrepreneurs with establishing their own food business since 2005. Another notable member is ForageSF, who has branched off into this world after several years of helping small food businesses out with their fun and engaging Underground Markets in addition to their roving supper club and foraging events.

Columbus' Food Fort, established in July of 2011, has been a linchpin in helping the local mobile food industry reach the thriving status it holds today. The opportunities for more innovation by local culinary institutions only promises to increase with the arrival of The Commissary, the brainchild of Kate Djupe. Her own experiences of trying to produce her own baby food for sale showed her there was a need for such a kitchen space that would not only be able to handle this type of production, but also allow for existing businesses to expand and experiment with their own culinary aspirations. Due to a funding gap, a Kickstarter campaign was launched and proved ultimately successful, allowing The Commissary to develop its current space in the Marble Cliff area of the metro.

This successful campaign sparked a Block Party celebration, in which supporters of the venture like my spouse and I were allowed to experience and discover what had been developed from their funds. These were some pictures of what turned out to be quite a fun time seeing this promising venture come to life, with more to come, including a coffee lab from Stauf's Coffee Roasters as well as both a molecular gastronomy and brewery area.

Bright green brick and a balloon greeted us at the entrance
Simple to creative, and from community and business members of
all types, the Supporter Spoon Wall was gorgeously laid out
Artistic murals lined the walls of the drive-thru area for mobile food trucks
The kitchen and community bookshelf (which includes many
borrowable baking tins)
Local band Earwig, who has their own Kickstarter campaign in support of
their new album release, threw out some rocking tunes in a space that will
eventually contain more kitchen spaces for rent
My spouse and I really enjoyed the pierogis from Sophie's Gourmet Pierogis and the
chicken dish from the King-Lincoln-based Los Potosinos. The excellent Dos Hermanos
taco truck was also there serving food. We washed down our eats with beverages
from Mill St. Distillery in Utica, OH and Columbus-based Actual Brewing.
Another in the Columbus Knife Fight series took place tonight. In the end,
Chef Matt White from Columbus Brewing Company edged out
Chef Lara Yazvac Pipia of Two-Top Consulting
Friendly folks from Outfit/Good, a community-oriented T-shirt maker, and
Igloo Letterpress offered some fancy printed goodies for attendees. In addition,
Amy Turn Sharp was also there lending poems on demand to folks typed
out on an old-style typewriter.
The Commissary founder Lara Djupe took us on a tour of the facility. Before
this picture, she mentioned that she may still need to be pinched to believe
it's all actually happened. Based on this picture, 
I think she's realizing it has.
The Commissary
1400 Dublin Rd
Marble Cliff, OH 43215
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Hopyard Honeys: The Columbus Women's Craft Beer Society

Today's guest post is written by none other than my beloved spouse. She has the word on some local ladies who sample and discuss something near and dear to many people: BEER.

Last February, my sister sent me a private message on Facebook.  “Are you busy Wednesday night? I have a Women's Craft Beer Society meeting at 7pm. I wanted to know if you want to come.”

A women’s craft beer society?  I was intrigued. As with most people, my first experiences with beer were in college where quantity was valued over quality.  After I turned 21 (*cough* in 1994 *cough*), my older brother started inviting me to a few of his parties where I started to learn that there were a lot more interesting beers out there than what the macrobreweries had to offer.  My interest in beer grew slowly but after a fortuitous stop in 2005 at a bar in the San Diego area introduced me to Arrogant Bastard by Stone Brewing, I became a confirmed craft beer aficionado. Of course I agreed to go with my sister.

The Columbus Women’s Craft Beer Society (aka Hopyard Honeys) was originally organized in January 2014 by Nichole Endicott and Sarah Cottrell, a couple of women with an interest in craft beer and some connections to the local craft beer scene. Nichole continues to do most of the leg-work for the meetings including lining up a location and purchasing the beers we will be sharing. Each month has had a different theme or style of beer that we explore, and each meeting is intended to be both fun and educational. Since my first meeting in February, I have attended most of them. One of my favorite meetings was in August, when the theme was beer brewed by companies owned by women or where the brewmaster was a woman. Being the hop-head that I am, I also really liked the IPA themed meeting back in the spring.

October's theme was pumpkin beers and ciders
The group is female-only and is a great way to meet new friends who share your interest.  The women who attend have a wide range of backgrounds, experience with craft beer, and style preferences. Information is shared freely and we aren't afraid to search the internet when a question is beyond the knowledge of anyone present. The most important thing to know for any woman interested in attending these meetings is that there is no stupid question: don’t be afraid to ask away!
Columbus has a great craft beer scene and we almost always include a local offering that is representative of the style or theme being explored. We usually sample 4-6 beers and, in some months, there are bonus offerings as well.

If you are interested in joining us, we usually meet on the last Wednesday of the month at 7 p.m. and we usually wrap up between 8:30 - 9:00.  However, because dates (especially November and December due to the holidays) and locations are subject to change, the best way to keep tabs on the upcoming meetings is to join the Facebook page (a link to which is located below).  Please note: to cover the costs of purchasing the beers, attendees are asked to contribute $10 per meeting and to RSVP to the monthly event page so there is an accurate count of how many people to expect.

The November meeting is a week earlier than usual due to Thanksgiving. We are going to meet at Brothers Drake Meadery this Wednesday, Nov 19 at 7 p.m.  Please arrive by about 6:45 since we will begin promptly at 7 p.m. We are going to sample four of their offerings and learn all about mead. Mead is technically a honey wine, not a beer, so this is a chance to step outside of our usual beer-exploration this month. Food will be available at Brothers Drake through the Tokyo Go Go food truck parked on site. While the educational part of the meeting will be a bit shorter than usual since Brothers Drake will have a band coming to play at 8 p.m., we expect that most of us will hang around to socialize and listen to some live local music.

Hopyard Honeys - Columbus Women's Craft Beer Society
Facebook Page
November's Meeting Event Page

Brothers Drake Meadery
26 E 5th Ave (Short North)
Columbus, OH  43201
(614) 388-8765
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Coming Attractions: The Roosevelt Coffeehouse

Roosevelt Coffeehouse's business front and logo
The Roosevelt Coffeehouse has a unique and noble mission; as stated on their Facebook page, this coffeehouse is "built to fight the worldwide & local injustices of hunger, unclean water, sex trafficking, and slavery." After being on the local dining radar in concept since early 2014, the opening of this downtown-located non-profit business is finally within sight.

I was able to stop by for their last week's pop-up before final construction was due to start at their 300 East Long Street location and found extremely hosts and a space that promises to be a welcoming spot for visitors.

Founder Kenny Sipes was manning the pop-up on this day and was more than happy to give the details on their space and the mission of Roosevelt. As with other previous pop-ups and proceeds earned after the official opening, all proceeds earned at this pop-up will be donated to various worthy causes with an emphasis on transparency.

Sipes and his son Ethan were more than happy me and other visitors this day through the unfinished area where the main cafe space will go. This main space itself is very roomy and promises to be quite bright and sunny due to the ample window area.

As far as the coffee, Roosevelt has decided to use the beans of Stumptown Coffee out of Portland, Oregon for their brews. Recently, the coffeehouse announced that Destination Donuts will be offered at their location when they open; other items such as cupcakes and gluten-free baked goods are also in the works.

Though construction is currently in progress, fundraising to allow Roosevelt to buy some much needed equipment for daily operation is currently underway until November 17; you can score yourself a pretty nice-looking T-shirt or sweatshirt in the process. Details can be found at their Facebook page at this link here.

Coffee-lovers can look for the Roosevelt Coffeehouse to open its doors to the public sometime either late December this year or early January 2015.

Roosevelt Coffeehouse
300 E. Long St. (Downtown)
Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 571-7554
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Coming Attractions: The Early Bird

There are plenty of food trucks around the Columbus Metro that will freshly whip up some wonderful savory treats; occasionally, you'll find one that has an item or two that will satisfy the sugar hound in you.

So why not a food trailer that focuses mainly on freshly baked up sweet goodness paired up with a cup of quality java to boot?

After graduating with a baking and pastry degree from college, owner Libby Vicha started up Four and Twenty Blackbird Bake Shop in 2013, selling her baked goods (mainly cupcakes, but also assorted breads and pies) at various markets around the area, including the Pearl Market (which is where I first encountered her goods.) The Early Bird is her latest venture, and my spouse and I were fortunate enough to have attended the soft opening a couple weeks back.

Vicha proved to be an engaging host, saying that had come into the baking world as cupcakes were booming but her interests in that world waned as the cupcake craze leveled off. She had always been a fan of the beignets offered by New Orleans' famed Cafe Du Monde and thought a menu based around them and other items reflective of her pastry background was more in line with her true passions. Additionally, she noted that the Early Bird was a joint venture with the property owner (the Indianola Church of Christ) that would further both the church's and her own food and beverage operations.

On this evening, her sample beignet offerings on this evening were all quite delicious, with the chocolate ganache being our favorite. Coffee was from and will be brewed with the beans of Short North roasters One Line Coffee, a definite plus in our books. Perhaps our most anticipated item on her proposed menu for us is the hand pies, which Vicha said would be freshly created and come with a variety of fruit filling options.

At the time of the soft opening, Vicha said several final permit checks and inspections were still outstanding, and operating hours are still a work in progress. While the final operating hours will most likely be finalized depending on how business goes, we are happy to say that based on their social feeds, The Early Bird has passed their final inspections, and diners can drop by for their official opening on Tuesday, November 18th at from 7 AM - 11 AM.

Update: Despite a few small hurdles related to weather and some balky equipment, Vicha has opened up her food cart and appears to be receiving some solid foot traffic despite some unfavorable weather. My spouse and I dropped by a few days after opening to sample a couple of her freshly-made beignets and cups of One Line Coffee. Both of our beignets (custard and strawberry-filled) were quite tasty and made for a good start on a very cold (even for) November morning.

The Early Bird
2141 Indianola Ave (North Campus)
Columbus, OH 43201
(614) 715-0906
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Worthy of the Gold: Weinkeller (Niagara Falls, ON)

Golden anniversary celebrations should be special affairs no matter what the circumstances. The spouse and I had been fully expecting to make the trip out to California to celebrate my parents' 50th year of matrimony this year, but due to another set of circumstances (thankfully nothing of dire nature) the big shindig just wasn't going to happen there this year.

Thus, we wanted to give them a slightly early celebration during their time out here with a special meal, and Weinkeller in Niagara Falls provided the venue.

While one can order a la carte at Weinkeller, their driving concept revolves around a prix fixe menu where customization is a prime hallmark. A customer can tailor their prix fixe menu in quite a few ways that are not apparent via a quick glance through of their website. The main choice lies in receiving a 3-course dinner for $35 or 5 course dinner for $45. 

Weinkeller's menu is meant for customization, right on down to
your drinking water (carbonated or pure still)
Despite the relatively select menu, diners will realize there are even more choices beyond the prix fixe/a la carte level, starting with the drinking water. Similar to their wine, Weinkeller produces their own in-house carbonated and purified water and allows diners to choose between the two. Other customization lies in their meat and fish entree offerings; these can be prepared by the chef in a multitude of ways (for example, their Pacific Salmon platter can be had blackened, cooked on a cedar plank, poached with seasonal hollandaise sauce, or grilled with herb butter.) Also, if you choose the five-course prix fixe menu, you can include their house-produced wines as one of the courses.

Top to Bottom:
Beef Carpaccio
Pacific Salmon
Chocolate Wontons
We all basically opted for the three-course prix fixe option and opted to get extra beverages on the side. Our first courses covered the gamut: from the Caesar Salad (a solid version) to my Chicken Parcels (an interesting creation consisting of ravioli-sized chicken-pot-pie pies accompanied by a tart cherry aioli.)  My dad utilized the customization aspect early on and went with two appetizers (instead of appetizer/dessert,) ending up with two good ones in a Smoked Salmon Bisque soup (finished with crème fraiche and fried capers) and the Beef Carpaccio (thin strips of seared tenderloin mixed with a Panzanella salad.) The other winning appetizer was one of the two Herbed Mussels variations offered. These mussels, which were panned in herbs & white wine and topped with parmesan-coated truffle fries, was chosen by my mom and was found quite a winning dish by all.

We all branched off on our own as well in regard to the entrees; while there was not a standout dish that wowed everyone, everyone was satisfied by their choices. Each dish chosen, from the Pacific Salmon with seasonal hollandaise sauce, to the grilled New York Steak with béarnaise, the Vegetarian Linguine (arugula pesto pasta with roasted garlic cloves, oven dried cherry tomatoes and crumbled goats cheese) and the Clams Casino (fettuccine tossed with smoked bacon, roasted red peppers, garlic bread crumbs and clams) were all solidly-delicious renditions of these dishes.

Desserts followed a similar pattern to the entrees: while none of the desserts reached that elite eye-popping "best thing I've ever had" level, everything ranked as quite good and provided a solid nightcap to everyone's prix fixe dinners. We were all close to being full, but we had no reason not to finish off their Dark Chocolate Cheesecake, Red Wine Chocolate Wontons (with raspberry dipping sauce) and Creme Brulee sweet treats.

My spouse and I also sampled their house-made wines; based on our entrees, we stuck with their white wines. Based on personal tastes, we thought we would enjoy the Riesling or Gewurztraminer varietals, but in the end the Pinot Blanc carried the day in our own personal "best of" designation with a nicely dry punch with a nicely noticeable tinge of peach.

Weinkeller (which translates from German into "Wine Cellar") sports an appropriately dark, cellar-like atmosphere. The interior is quite stylish: the splashes of modern artwork on the walls and smartly-engaged lighting making this a good choice for a romantic dinner or a relaxing group dinner with friends or family. The service was also top-notch: Weinkeller's high level of menu customization can prove confusing to the diner, and our server was well-versed and patient in explaining our options to us.

In the end, Weinkeller proved to be well worth the money for our golden anniversary dinner with my parents. If you are looking for something both a little bit more special and novel in regard to menu customization when dining on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, Weinkeller fits the bill perfectly and should be high on your consideration list.

5633 Victoria Ave.
Niagara Falls, ON L2G 3L5
(289) 296-8000
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Harvest Swoon: Harvest Bar and Kitchen

Our first encounter with Harvest Pizzeria was back in 2012 on our first ever Columbus Food Adventures tour of German Village. Back then, the business was just in its infancy, and their basic Margherita pizza slices we sampled showed us they had potential to stick around for a while.

Sure enough, Harvest has made good on that initial notion: after opening up both their Curio Bar as well as The Sycamore Cafe (now known simply as The Sycamore) in the same neighborhood, they have branched out to the north and opened up Harvest Bar & Kitchen (HBK) in Clintonville in the former space occupied by Mozart's Cafe.

Inside, HBK's space has been smartly attired in a rustic/country modern motif, in a somewhat similar vein of the recently visited Double Comfort. The interior layout hasn't changed too much from told Mozart's space save maybe for the seating. Seating is available at HBK's bar area, which takes over where Mozart's pastry displays and coffee area once stood. While the heated patio seating area to the side of the building has been retained, additional seating space has been fenced off up front for the warmer seasons. And unlike Mozart's more intimate and private table positioning, HBK's inside seating arrangement lends a more communal feel to diners, as if you were sharing one single table with your fellow restaurant-goers.

HBK's Pizza Menu, plus interior space & decor
Harvest has brought their pizzas ($11 - $14; gluten-free crusts are available for $3 extra) with them to their Clintonville location, and they remain among the best in the metro area. Their Spicy Yuma (a scrumptious blend of local gouda cheese, chorizo, jalapeño, corn, red pepper and chipotle-laced sauce) will always be on the consideration list on future visits. Meanwhile, their Mushroom pie, with havarti and gouda cheeses topped with a mix of Athens County mushrooms, was also a solidly tasty pie. If you're not enamored of any of their preset combinations, a build-your-own pizza option is also available starting at $11 with a mix of no-charge and extra-charge items.

Top to Bottom:
Spicy Yuma Pizza
Fried Chicken Special
Mushroom Pizza
In addition, Harvest Bar and Kitchen has added a slew of additional menu items that, based on our first experiences, show a similar long-term promise that we experienced with their pizza a couple years ago. Harvest's Veggie Burger ($13) has joined my rotation of favorites in this metro area. Their HBK's version sports a seemingly kitchen-sink mix of ingredients including quinoa, wild rice, cashews, house-made giardiniera and Shagbark black beans; each bite provides a slightly different but quite enjoyable blend of flavors around an overall satiating unique taste profile.

On the other hand, HBK's weekend Fried Chicken special ($15) might be as decadent as their Veggie Burger is healthy. This combo is not only large in quantity (consisting of fried chicken breasts drizzled with spicy honey sauce and Benton's Country Ham served on buttermilk biscuits and remoulade, with a side of hush puppies and honey butter), but also large in taste as well. We had plenty leftover to bring with us back home to be enjoyed again the next day.

HBK does not skimp on the beverage choices. Beer in draft, canned and bottled forms is available, as well as a select cocktail menu and a fairly extensive wine selection.

Harvest's Neapolitan-style pizzas are definitely reason enough in itself for visiting either of their locations. However, it is their tasty expanded menu at their Clintonville location that make their Bar and Kitchen concept both a winning prospect for almost any diner and a definite on our personal rotation of regular favorites.

Harvest Bar and Kitchen
2885 N High St (Clintonville)
Columbus, OH 43202
(614) 947-7133
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A Day for the Vets: The Columbus Veterans Day Parade

One of the things I've come to learn (and appreciate) about Columbus' downtown-area holiday celebrations is their unique timing. Generally speaking, these celebrations don't fall on the holiday itself but rather the last workday before the holiday. This is done not only as a way to help mitigate traffic concerns but also to make it easier for downtown workers to attend. Thus, an event like the city's big fireworks extravaganza to celebrate Independence Day, Red White and Boom, can take place anywhere from July 1st to the 3rd.

There is a similar setup as well for Columbus' Veterans Day Parade, which is held on a day before the holiday to ensure a good turnout for the festivities. Starting at the 12 noon on this day, this allowed the maximum number of downtown workers and allows others plenty of time to get down to view the festivities. The parade, wending its way the Nationwide Arena area down High Street to the Statehouse area, and then to the west toward the Veterans Memorial Building, is a pretty large celebration in its own right, lasting for well over an hour.

Blustery winds were no match for parade participants or spectators on this otherwise perfect autumn day. Led by the Columbus Fire and Police Pipes and Drums Corps and followed closely by Honorary Parade Grand Marshal 8-year-old Myles Eckert, whose act of giving a $20 bill he had found to a soldier inspired a million-dollar "Pay It Forward" charity effort across the nation, this parade of high-school bands, sponsors, and numerous military- and veteran-oriented organizations proved to be quite an enjoyable experience and led to these pictures.


Both the spouse and I have those who have served in the military both in our immediate family and close relatives, so we are as knowledgeable as anybody of the sacrifices and struggles military veterans go through. We are incredibly thankful for all they have done for us and our country, and are equally thankful for anyone who serves or has served our country's armed forces with honor and dignity.