Just Like Clockwork: Starliner Diner

The Bay Area has its share of diner-style places fitting many vibes, from the classic 50s (Lori's in San Francisco and Bette's Oceanview in Berkeley) to 80s new wave/rock (Rudy's Can't Fail Cafe in Emeryville), to country homestyle rustic (the Fremont Diner in Sonoma) to city historic (Grubstake Diner in San Francisco is fashioned out of an old streetcar.) However, nothing I've encountered yet in my old home area quite matches the combo of unique kitsch and brunch deliciousness that Starliner Diner in Hilliard brings to its diners.

Visual kitsch abounds at Starliner Diner, giving the diner a lot to see
Open for roughly 20 years, Starliner Diner gives the visitor a lot of kitsch to look at, from the colorful murals to sports-related memorabilia (some of the waiting area chairs appear to be old stadium seats) to the numerous retro clocks that dominate the one wall and randomly appear at various other places in the interior. While no one decor or era totally dominates, the cumulative effect lends an overall cool and kitschy feel that is welcoming and seemingly familiar.

The dishes come flying out at a fast rate during the busy weekends
During the busy weekends, the waiting diner (even at its busiest, Starliner seems to get people seated in relatively quick fashion) can add the numerous delicious dishes awaiting pickup to their visual distractions. One of my fun tasks on my first visits was trying to figure out what dishes were what, and trying to figure out what I was truly hungry for on that particular visit.

On our last visit, my spouse went with an favorite for both us, their Chilaquiles, a hearty combo of scrambled eggs, peppers, onions, black beans, and cheese with tortilla chips; meanwhile I went with the Mexican Chorizo Omelette with chorizo, peppers, onion, garlic, cheese & cilantro with a side of Cuban Toast.

These dishes, along with most of the other Starliner's breakfast items, have rarely disappointed. From the Cuban French Toast (their Cuban Bread cubed up and prepared) and Cuban Breakfast, Huevos Rancheros, and various usual specials (Blueberry Pancakes and Azteca Breakfast Enchiladas, to name a couple) provide hearty and delicious early morning fare at reasonable prices (basically less than $10 per dish) with leftovers to spare on most days.

Oh, did I mention they serve lunch and dinner as well? Frankly we're still having too much fun with breakfast at Starliner, but one of these days, I swear we will sample those wares as well.

Starliner Diner
5240 Cemetery Road
Hilliard, OH 43026
Facebook    Twitter   Website

Starliner Diner on Urbanspoon

December Travelogue: Seven Months after the EF-5

We wish all you readers the most wonderful of Christmas holidays and safe travels during your journeys this holiday season. This is a continuing series of monthly travelogues, where I document some of my past journeys through this world of ours:

A Route 66 info panel found at Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
Route 66, known as "The Mother Road" still holds a mythos and nostalgic pull for many people in love road travel. Many are familiar with the catchy pop standard "(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66", composed by writer Bobby Troup and first popularized by legendary singer Nat King Cole, and numerous organizations and groups are dedicated to preserving the legacy of this roadway which traversed from Chicago to Los Angeles.

I have personally traveled the existing westernmost sections on my own in Arizona, and as it turned out, this route would be within a quick turnoff and detour for my spouse and I for much of the journey from California to Ohio when I finally made my move to the Buckeye State.

One of the cities along this famed route, specifically mentioned in the famed pop standard, is Joplin, Missouri. Approximately seven months prior to our travels to Ohio, Joplin was struck with the deadliest tornado since modern record-keeping began. This EF-5 rated tornado tragically killed 158 people and injured more than 1,000 people, and caused an estimated $2.8 billion in total damage. On the trip, we figured out on the fly that our travels would take us by this stricken town and we decided, if the timing worked out, we would stop into town to give a little business.

Indeed, we had wandered into the Joplin area right around lunch, and we turned off Interstate 44 onto State Route 43. We did not know the exact path that the tornado had taken through town, nor did we have any recent information about the rebuilding efforts, so as we wended our way toward downtown, we did not quite know what to expect.

Then, as the streets started dipping from the 40s into the 30s, the devastation emerged. The images of mangled trees, denuded of their higher branches, and barren property plots took our breath away at first, but we also spotted the signs of rebirth in the form of new construction. The instinct was to document what we were viewing, but we felt uncomfortable with this notion; this wasn't a tourist attraction, after all. Our cameras stayed shuttered as we drove into town, and on the way out when we mirrored the tornado's path along the historic Route 66.

Downtown Joplin lay north of the tornado's path of destruction. The lazy bustle we found here seemed like any other weekday that typify the days that lie between Christmas and New Year's Day, save for the fact that the whole city was trying to find its collective feet again.

Outside of the Red Onion Cafe in Downtown Joplin
We scouted out The Red Onion, established in 1995 at 4th and Virginia Streets in downtown Joplin. The restaurant interior was comfortable, playing off their residence inside a 100-year-old building in a homey kind of way. Likewise, their American-styled menu contained some comfort food decadence in the form of their coconut-breaded and Arkansas smokehouse chicken dishes and what looked to be some decadent sweets. But since we had had a surplus of both richer dishes and various snacky items the prior days of this road trip, we went for a couple of their healthier-sounding salads in the form of their Harvest Spinach Apple and Mandarin Orange Salads. Both dishes were tasty and provided the break in the prevailing eating routine we had developed.

The waitstaff were very gracious and friendly, and quite appreciative that we had stopped by to give them some business. We asked about how the restaurant and the town were doing: they said customers were slowly starting to come back to dine, and overall the town was making progress in terms of rebuilding and returning back to a normal routine. While they acknowledged there was still plenty left to do, they remained hopeful it would get done.

Nowadays, Joplin is nearly all the way back; at the mark of the three year anniversary, a report by KYTV in Springfield, MO, reported that 90 percent of all the homes had been rebuilt, and that 450 of the 500 businesses that had been affected by the tornado had returned. St. John's Hospital (now known as Mercy), which was basically destroyed by the twister, has a new campus under construction that is slated for opening for 2015. And the Red Onion Cafe continues to serve food at its main location in Joplin and three Espressoria locations.

However, as noted in the KYTV report, the final steps are often the hardest, as donor dollars dry up (the Joplin Recovery Fund is still active and taking donations) and other disasters reach the national conscience, including Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and the Moore, OK tornado of 2013. But even though those steps may be the toughest, it won't be for the lack of resolve and trying by the residents of Joplin and other communities who are struck by the unthinkable.

Joplin Recovery Fund
c/o Community Foundation of the Ozarks
P.O. Box 8960
Springfield, MO 65801
(888) 266-6815
Facebook    Twitter    Website

Red Onion Cafe
203 East 4th Street
Joplin, MO 64801
(417) 623-1004
Facebook     Twitter     Website

Red Onion Cafe on Urbanspoon

Cantina Chronicles: Local Cantina (Clintonville)

Open now for not quite two months, Local Cantina's new location in Clintonville is the third of this local mini-chain of casual bars serving Mexican-styled eats that strives, per its motto, to "Eat Craft - Drink Craft - Live Local."

My spouse and I had dropped by their first location in Grandview for a beer earlier this summer and got a taste of George Tanchevski's version of a neighborhood hangout (Tanchevski also is involved with other local establishments such as Aladdin's and Local Bar.) However, the new Clintonville location is the first where we were able to sample the edibles, during a visit with a large group of associates.

This location is somewhat smaller space-wise than its Grandview cousin; we found it can be a challenge during busy times to refill your bowls of free chips and salsa from their dispenser located in the far southeast corner of the room, or just navigate through the area in general. This space tends to be loud both audibly (a combination of normal conversation and the pumped-in music) and visually (the same quirky decor follows here from original Grandview location, with a mishmash of items crammed onto a smaller display area that does try to emphasize the restaurant's "Live Local" part of their motto to a certain degree.) 

Local Cantina has brought its Mexican-styled eats and a visually busy
decor to its new and quaintly-sized Clintonville location
Their "Eat Craft" portion is represented by a selection of Mexican-styled eats. Their basic taco options ($3 - $3.50 each) shouldn't be mistaken for their taco truck brethren, but they are decent fare to munch on while sipping your beverages. Out of the four varieties we sampled, the roasted carnitas with pineapple mango salsa was our favorite.

Local Cantina's Unibrow habanero poppers and tacos (top). Free chips and salsa
(bottom) are available to all; dips like the queso fundido (also pictured) are also available
Even better was their "Unibrow Poppers" appetizer ($4), which was something of a challenge/dare by our colleagues. These habanero poppers with jalapeno jelly were prepared well and packed a good dose of heat, but my spouse handled these fairly easily and was nowhere near asking for the complimentary glass of milk offered by the restaurant as heat relief.  Other than a this and other select appetizers and craft sides, other dining options include "Can-tizzas" (their take on a Mexican-style pizza), quesadillas, nachos and salads. Prices are generally pocketbook friendly, as no food item chimes in the double-digit range price-wise.

Local Cantina does do the "Drink Craft" portion of their motto pretty well: craft spirits are integrated into their cocktails and margaritas, and they offer a nice selection of craft beers (including Ohio-based breweries) both in bottle and on tap. On this visit, draft beer options from Columbus breweries like North High, Seventh Son and CBC were available, along with selections from Ohio-based Fathead's, Great Lakes, Brew Kettle and Jackie O's.

Local Cantina
3126 N High St (Clintonville)
Columbus, OH 43202
(614) 754-8554
Facebook    Twitter    Website

Local Cantina 3 on Urbanspoon

No Re-Peet's in Ohio: Some Thoughts from a Former Bay Area Regular

Peet's Clintonville during more hopeful times
First off: a little Cliff's Notes version about my coffee history. For almost four decades of my life, I was not a regular coffee drinker. My household was a world of Taster's Choice and Maxwell House, and the only use for coffee for me was a dipping liquid for glazed donuts (mmmm, glazed donuts dipped in coffee.)

I honestly did not get all the hubbub about the more expensive coffees such as those sold by Starbucks. When I was convinced to go with family or friends out for coffee, I would grab a coffee drink of some sort, but it generally didn't do a thing for me. My preferred caffeine fix sources then were either gobs of pop or, for a brief time, energy drinks.

Then came a time where I decided it was time to get off the energy drinks. Going back to gallons of pop was not a choice, so coffee was the logical replacement option. Getting in as early as I did to work meant my options were very limited, but luckily I found Peet's, whose stores were one of the few open during those creaky early morning hours I stumbled into town. It was Peet's who provided me my gateway java into the world of better coffee.

When I first heard they were branching out to the Midwest, my immediate reaction was one of excitement: a part of my personal history would now be a proverbial stone's throw away from me. But as time progressed, based on what I was saw from them (two waves of store closures before the final death knell) and some of my own personal experiences, I grew much more skeptical about their move. Their sudden closing earlier this week came as no surprise to me, and provided the exclamation point for a post I had been thinking of writing for awhile regarding their lack of success.

So why did Peet's fail in the Midwest? I think much of it comes down to one word: loyalty

Caribou Coffee Loyalty: A foray into coffee by JABenckiser, the German conglomerate more known for their fashion-related brands, seemed a bit odd in 2012, but they must have known that they had acquired two coffee chains with strong loyalties in both the Midwest-based Caribou and the West Coast-based Peet's. I wonder if they expected anything else other than a negative reaction when they essentially told one side of that loyalty quotient that it was time to be loyal to the other side without any good reason put forward to earn that loyalty.

I personally experienced the strength of that loyalty with several Caribou Coffee fans/colleagues of mine who were none too happy with the news. Their first tastings of their product pretty much sealed the deal, as they remarked how "Starbucks-like" it was and how they missed the more subtler-coffee shadings of their now departed Caribou drinks. Many others must have felt similarly and never transferred their loyalty to the newly branded stores: the downtown Peet's location, the closest to my workplace and in a prime foot-traffic spot in the Huntington Building, didn't last a year and was a victim of the second wave of store closings.

Local Coffee Loyalty: Peet's was essentially a local brand in the Bay Area (their first store opened up in 1966 in Berkeley) but was essentially an outsider in the Midwest. As much as I appreciated them in the Bay Area, there are a multitude of local Columbus-area coffee shops that I would frequent over Peet's were they next to each other on the block. Not that I didn't drop by Peet's while they were here, but new local loyalties kept my visits to a minimum. And it was for certain that anyone with a strong association to any of this area's fine local coffee shops would NOT suddenly find Peet's as a "must-visit" on their coffee rounds.

Starbucks Loyalty: In terms of chain coffee, Peet's coffee is very similar in style to Starbucks (essentially, Starbucks based their coffee model from Peet's original store.) There are people who would say there is a difference, but the number of people here who would say that are probably awfully small here in the Midwest. Another aspect is the loyalty programs: Peet's does have its own "Peetniks" program that provides certain perks for loyal customers. However, that program has nowhere near the marketing clout and instant gratification factor of Starbucks' Rewards program. This factor, combined with Starbucks' sheer presence (50 locations popped up in the Starbucks website-based locator when I typed in Columbus, OH) and other ancillary aspects (e.g. much more in the way of food options) meant you'd have few defectors from this populace.

The "Why You Should Show Loyalty To Us" Factor: I attended some of Peet's soft-opening events where they offered free coffee to curious folks, I received updates on the construction, but got no good feedback from those hosting those events as to what made Peet's coffee special. I seemed to know more about history of Peet's and the role that founder Alfred Peet played in fashioning the blueprint for the modern coffee business than the people manning these events.

For me, it seemed that anything that would make Peet's special, whether it be the history, the way it roasts it coffee, etc., did not get communicated very well to their potential customers as well as their surrounding communities. I came across a very well-written Linked In post by Cara Posey, a Marketing, Communications, & Public Affairs Professional, that explained this aspect quite well.

As it stands, Peet's is gone and a number of workers received a fairly rude holiday surprise in the form of a pink slip (in a nice gesture, the company did say that employees were receiving at six weeks of pay and benefits, with additional severance pay given based on previous tenure.) In the Columbus-area coffee scene as a whole, their departure is not a huge loss. I am sure on travels back to the Bay Area, I will drop by a Peet's and have a cup for old times sake.

In its stead, I would love to see a local coffee provider move into one the last two locations now left empty with the departure. I am sure the old Peet's Clintonville location, or any of the two former Caribou locations in Upper Arlington can be a viable coffeehouse again with the right vendor.

And there are plenty of other places in the metro ripe for a good neighborhood coffeehouse. Starbucks alone dot much of the Northwest area around Henderson and Bethel out to Riverside, as well as the Sawmill Road Corridor - why not somewhere here? Or perhaps about Franklinton close to the burgeoning 400 West Rich complex? I cross my fingers that there will be more locally-based java goodness to explore in the near future. 

Franklinton Fun (Pt. 2): Columbus Idea Foundry/Glass Axis/Land-Grant Brewing

Note: Part 1 of this post can be found here at this link 

The Glass Axis: Founded in the late 1980s by Ohio State University students and graduates, The Glass Axis has been a prime force in Central Ohio in promoting and providing support to people who specialize in the glass arts. In addition to this main focus, this non-profit organization offers teaching and education to the public at large, including classes that allow the dabblers (like me, courtesy of a gift certificate given to me by my spouse) to try out their artistic flair.

Decent attempt at exercising my creative side, courtesy of a Glass Axis class
In addition to the class, we had been able to frequent their old Grandview location for their Annual Holiday Sale, where a collection of glass-made gifts, ornaments and other items are available for purchase. This year's edition allowed us to visit their new location in Franklinton after they had announced their move early in 2014.

Based on what we saw, the new facility looks to be a keeper. Much of the space was organized to handle all the sales goods (there were plenty of attractive options available for the Christmas shopper), but was plenty of room to handle the hot glass area as well as what seemed to be a special display and exhibit area. On this day, visitors could mix in their shopping with workshops to make their own glass-made goods while partaking in a good cup of free java via the Cafe Brioso cart.

The Glass Axis' official re-opening at their new Franklinton facility is set to take place January 2015; for information on this event as well as Glass Axis' services and classes, please contact them at:

The Glass Axis
610 West Town St. (Franklinton)
Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 291-4250
Facebook    Twitter    Website

Columbus Idea Foundry: While members of the Glass Axis specialize in all things glass, the folks associated with the Columbus Idea Foundry (CIF) pretty much take on all fields of art and design. With the wide swath of inventive minds under this roof, one should not be surprised by a slightly mischievous, go big or go home environment.

Founded in 2008, CIF is another organization who relocated within to the Franklinton neighborhood with the assistance of a $350,000 grant from ArtPlace America. Along with offering wide-ranging classes to the public (including blacksmithing, electronics, fashion, and functional arts such as gardening and lockpicking(!)), regularly scheduled Maker Family and Maker Date Night events allow families and couples to explore their creative side while satisfying any built up hunger pangs via an in-house potluck of sorts or a dinner at nearby Strongwater Food and Spirits. Additional fun onsite is available in the form of the team-building Trapped In A Room with a Zombie game, where groups of people can use both mental and physical faculties to avoid a most dastardly attack by the undead.

Similar to the Glass Axis, we had attended their holiday sale/open house at their old Milo-Grogan location and wanted to check out their new facility. Like the previous year, select items were offered for sale, including Magnet Gears, a holiday gift my nieces and nephews enjoyed immensely.

But perhaps the true creative spirit was evident in the demonstrations that day. People could carve out and make their own wooden pen in the wood-making area. In addition, we had on a previous visit performed some pewter casting before with CIF member Terry Griner. Indeed, his enthusiastic self was there again, entertaining the crowds with his tales; he ended up swapping some old-location COSI stories and laughs with our friend we were entertaining from out of town.

For more information about the classes and services provided by the Columbus Idea Foundry, please contact them at:

The Columbus Idea Foundry
421 W. State St (Franklinton)
Columbus, OH 43215
Facebook     Twitter     Website

Land-Grant Brewing Company: I managed to sneak in a quick survey during Land Grant's grand opening back in October, but this visit was really my first where I could sit back and soak in both the atmosphere. Of course, the brewery's Franklinton location made it a perfect stop for all of us on this busy day to relax for a bit and sample some of their offerings.

Starting off as a Kickstarter campaign back in 2011 under its original Oval Brewing name, the building that has now become Land-Grant has a fairly straightforward interior: the bar, television screens, seating area and outdoor patio is setup in a way that allows patrons to not feel too crammed except on the most packed of times. Their take on the sports/university motif (banners for Ohio State University and most of the country's other land-grant universities can be found lining ringing the walls) is novel and shows just a bit more thoughtfulness than your typical average sports bar.

Land-Grant does not have an on-site kitchen similar to many other Columbus brewery locations, but they have adopted a regular rotation of fairly well-known area food trucks to provide visitors with food options. The brewery has a selection of their own beers on tap along with a select number of beers from both Ohio-based and outside-the-state brewers.

As one might expect, their beers have adapted names related to the land-grant/sports theme. On my first visit, I found their 1862 American K├Âlsch Ale (named for the year when the Land-Grant Act was passed) a nice crisp beer, perfect for a hot summer day.

On this latest visit, we got to sample three more of their offerings, and all three had their good points. Their Stiff Arm West Coast Style IPA didn't have that sticky, bitter punch of some of the more well-known exemplars; however, there was enough there to not only please my spouse (the IPA lover of our group) but also gain an appreciated from her friend and I (who are more into the darker styles of beer.) The Son of a Mudder Brown Ale also was similarly milder only in that we had had Seventh Son's very nice and much more assertive Stone Fort Brown Ale the night before; that fact made it no less enjoyable, however. Perhaps our favorite offering by a nose was their Beard Crumbs Oatmeal Raisin Stout: it turned out to have a pleasant blend of raisin, malt and chocolate flavors with a nice body and mouthfeel all the way to the end.

The owners of Land-Grant have also shown the ability to make lemonade out of lemons, an aspect that would seem to bode well for their future. An act of vandalism on their new building early in December has led to a fundraising effort for Franklinton's Gladden Community House and Harmony Project via the sale of T-shirts which have been redesigned to mirror the results of the vandalism. All proceeds from the sale of the T-shirt (which can be ordered on their website here) will be donated to these two community-oriented organizations.

Land-Grant Brewing Company
424 W. Town Street (Franklinton)
Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 427-3946
Facebook     Twitter    Website

Franklinton Fun (Pt. 1): 400 West Rich Winter Market and Festivus! 2014

400 W. Rich Winter Market sandwich board, and all the goodies
we got with our own Festivus Swig Bag
The holiday season here in Columbus is no stranger to community happenings, and the up-and-coming Franklinton neighborhood was home to several of these events this December weekend. Holding the distinction of Central Ohio's oldest established town, Franklinton's fortunes have been historically adversely affected by its location on a floodplain (the area has been derogatorily referred to as "The Bottoms" over the years.) A formal Federal declaration to declare nearly the entire region as such in the early 1980s eventually fixed the recurring flooding problems (the construction of the area floodwall was completed in 2004) but led to a slow decline in population and abandonment of property when a concurrent halt to new construction was put into effect for that time period.

Recent efforts to revitalize the neighborhood have been steadily progressing, enough so to get national attention. The Atlantic, the prominent monthly magazine originally established in 1857 in Boston, featured the Franklinton neighborhood in a series of stories about the Columbus region overall:

The facility at 400 West Rich is one of the main cogs of this effort to effect positive change to the area. While we had dropped by their Farmers Market before, we had not previously had a full viewing of the property that was provided by the fourth annual Festivus! event provided event-goers this weekend. Accompanied by a friend from out of town with Columbus ties, we were pleased to find a much more vast expanse (the space contains 100,000 square feet of space) than we had ever figured and the bastion of creativity that resides in the studios contained within.

We found the Farmers Market bustling in its space next to Strongwater Food and Spirits
Coffee was in plentiful supply, with the folks from the Short North's
Mission Coffee and Olde Towne East's Upper Cup Coffee in house. 
Aromaku's Indonesian-styled eats, along with many vendors toting
holiday and other baked edibles, were around to feed the masses. Plenty
of human activities to burn off calories were also around in the form of a
kids' area, yoga classes, as well as a performance by Movement Activities
This was a theme of the day: there really was a lot more to be found
simply by wending through the maze of hallways of 400 West Rich

Between the regular Market and the Festivus events, there were plenty of
intriguing goods available for event-goers. I ended up with a nice little
leather mini-wallet from the folks at Open Hand Leather Goods.
Art?  Festivus had plenty of examples for sale and display this day. If you couldn't
find something that appealed to your senses, you weren't trying hard enough.
This enthusiastic event volunteer touted to us the benefits of the event Swig Bag.
Besides a natty tote designed by Sarah Pierce, the bag contained products and
discounts from numerous Columbus area businesses. All proceeds from the event
went to Gladden Community House and the Mid-Ohio Foodbank.
All-in-all, it was fun to simply wander about and not only view the numerous
examples of creativity, but also examine the facility's nooks and crannies.
It was quite evident to see how far this space has become simply
by looking at parts of the facility which have not been renovated.
400 West Rich
Farmers Market and Festivus! 2014
400 West Rich (Franklinton)
Columbus, OH 43215

400 West Rich Facility Links
Facebook    Twitter    Website

El Primero: El Arepazo Latin Grill (Downtown Columbus)

Other than Peruvian, South American cuisine was not commonly found in my former Bay Area home. One of my first discoveries in moving here was finding such a restaurant not too far from my workplace.

The original El Arepazo was established in 2005 in the Pearl Alley section of downtown Columbus. Seating capacity has actually been increased and the overhead space opened up over the restaurant's nearly 10 years of existence, including the addition of a small outdoor patio. However, rush hour can make dining in feel a bit claustrophobic. These tight quarters remind me of many places I'd find a bite to eat in San Francisco; at times, dining in here makes me feel like I haven't left San Francisco at all.

The quaint brick-lined interior does get hectic at lunch time, but the
staff at El Arepazo handles the crowds with aplomb
The drawback of the limited space at this location is trumped by far by the food offerings here. A select but wide-ranging array of dishes from many countries south of the border are offered to the diner, priced generally between $6 - $10.  These include dishes that I've had many times before in my former stomping grounds, including the Peruvian Lomo Saltado and their Fish Tacos. Arepazo's versions are both very solid renditions that I've ordered on past visits.

However, in my book, the Veneuzuelan dishes are my personal favorite. Their Arepa, grilled corn meal served with a mix of cheese, lettuce, mojito, avocado and banana peppers, is always an option when I drop by. On my last visit, I dove into their Patacon, a flattened and deep-fried plantain, topped with that same blend of cheese and other ingredients previously mentioned, with your favorite protein (beef, pork or chicken), that proved to be a unique blending of flavors and a very hearty lunch.

El Arepazo's Patacon is a unique blend of sweet and savory
If nothing else, the scrumptious eats and continual large daily numbers of lunch-goers at their anchor downtown location were and remain proof that El Arepazo's potential appeal to the metro at large. Indeed, El Arepazo has expanded their reach beyond their anchor location, first with a well-received (but now defunct) mobile operation (Yerba Buena Latin Grill) and, more recently, brick and mortar locations in the northeast portion of the metro in Downtown Gahanna (a post of which can be found at this link) and their newest location in the German Village neighborhood.

El Arepazo Latin Grill
47 N Pearl St. (Downtown)
Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 228-4830
Facebook    Twitter    Website

El Arepazo Latin Grill on Urbanspoon

El Segundo: Arepazo Tapas and Wine (Downtown Gahanna)

In complete contrast to the original El Arepazo in downtown Columbus (my post on their location can be found at this post,) their second location in tony downtown Gahanna seems mansion-like in comparison. The interior is reminiscent of their original Pearl Alley location with the dominant brick inlay; even the chairs and tables are similar to each other. However, modern style touches such as fancy overhead lamps, wine racks and industrial pipework lend a much more refined atmosphere. Here, the diner gets much more of a chance to stretch out and relax even during peak hours, enough time to notice these details, including a very cool South American mural toward the rear of the room.

More space means more attention to interior and details at El Arepazo Gahanna
Like the increase in space, Arepazo's menu here is expanded across all fronts. Aside from the traditional items you can get at their anchor downtown location, a list of South American influenced tapas are offered for $6-$8 each; their Picada for $18, a blend of various items including chorizo, steak and chicharron, can serve 2-3 people, The options include Albondigas (essentially, spiced pork and beef meatballs with tomato sauce), Chorizo al Vino (Colombian sausage in red wine) and Peruvian Ceviche (tilapia, onions and herbs in citrus juices.) As implied in the business name, wine is also a focus: Arepazo offers solid list of various wines to diners to enjoy with their meal.

Examples of Arepazo's expanded tapas and wine menu, plus two
Arepazo traditions (the Arepa and the Empanada)
As this was my spouse's first visit here, we decided to forgo the tapas menu for this visit and stick to Arepazo's traditional items. The arepa was as good as ever and my spouse appreciated her first sampling of this Venezuelan standard, but we both agreed that it was the empanada which was the star for both of us. The exteriors were perfectly textured, tender and but not mushy, and the fillings were all cooked and spiced well.

Worthy of sampling at all their locations is their spicy cilantro sauce. Even my spouse, who is not the biggest cilantro fan, agreed that this Arepazo creation is a winner; bottles of their signature sauce are offered for sale at their locations.

We have found this Arepazo location has a winning combination of food and atmosphere, making good on the promise shown by their anchor downtown location. It only seems natural at this point that we'll need to make it a proverbial "tercer" of sorts and drop by their German Village location in the future.

Arepazo Tapas and Wine
93 North High Street
Gahanna, OH 43230
(614) 471-7296
Facebook    Twitter    Website

Age Is But A Number: The Golden Hobby Shop

In the process of making our on-the-whim trip to the 2014 Village Lights holiday event in German Village (please see this post to read about some of the sights we encountered), my spouse had remembered a gift store in the neighborhood that featured arts and crafts of metro area senior citizens that she wouldn't mind visiting if we found their location during our event wanderings. This turned out to be the Golden Hobby Shop, and both my spouse and I ended up quite pleasantly surprised at what we found.

Founded in 1971 in the King-Lincoln neighborhood, this non-profit venture operated as a consignment shop catered toward the sale of handmade arts and crafts created by area senior citizens (currently, anyone who is 50 years of age or older can become a consignor of the shop.) The shop located a decade later to their current location in German Village when they outgrew their original space. With help from the City of Columbus (the shop is currently run through the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department) they took over and helped renovate the Old Third Street School in their current neighborhood to handle their operations. The shop had been threatened with closure by city budget cuts in 2009, but a deal between the shop's board of trustees and the city allowed the shop to operate with a minimal subsidy from the city and a lot of volunteer help.

These crafts, found in the main retail area, were just the tip of the iceberg
When my spouse had visited the shop several years ago, she seemed to remember a fairly select amount of goods for sale on a single level of the property. On this visit, we were surprised to learn, with the help of one of the shop's friendly volunteers, that there were multiple rooms with arts and crafts on two levels of the building. The main space itself would be considered a goodly-sized retail gift store by many standards and contained a cornucopia of items: greeting cards, mounted drawings, doll-sized clothing, assorted home goods and numerous sports-related tchotchkes were just the tip of the iceberg of what we would find during our wanderings here.

As we moved to the other rooms, we found even more items, holiday-related and otherwise, than we could have possibly imagined prior to this visit. These handcrafted products we examined covered all manner of themes, styling and uses. And while the items are all produced by senior members of the community, their appeal and practicality was hardly restricted to older folks.

Another thing that became quite obvious was the affordability of many of the items. While there are items that reach into the triple digits price-wise, we mutually agreed that many of the items offered for sale seemed quite affordable, if not close to a proverbial steal, based on the listed price.

The Golden Hobby Shop is currently open on Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 AM through 5 PM, with additional Sunday hours from 12 noon to 5:00 PM, now until Christmas Day (they will shutdown afterward until the end of January to perform inventory and space cleaning.) If you are looking for a handcrafted item with a bit of a personal touch for that special someone or someones this holiday season, at a price that may have you do a double-take because it seems like such a bargain, this now 40-plus-year institution of the Columbus is as good a place to start as any.

Golden Hobby Shop
630 South 3rd Street (German Village)
Columbus, OH
(614) 645-8329
Facebook     Website

2014 Village Lights (German Village)

We decided to drop by the 2014 Village Lights celebration in the German Village neighborhood, located just south of Downtown Columbus. This annual event draws thousands of people to this picturesque and historic area during the holiday season and is supported by numerous German Village organizations, businesses and residents.

Being something of an on the whim type visit, we didn't quite plan out everything quite as well as we would normally, but we were more than happy just to wander and discover what was out there on this beautiful, crisp but not too cold night. These pictures capture a small cross-section of an event that has become a favorite of many in its ten years of existence and was definitely a wonderful evening out for both of us.

We got there fairly early, but there were already dozens waiting
for the free horse-drawn carriage rides
The Striezelmarkt, the outdoor Christmas market located outside the
German Village Meeting Haus, had booths from several
neighborhood businesses and organizations. 
BalletMet's Nuthead, who had made an earlier appearance at The North Market,
showed up to entertain Village Lights goers. Their annual performances of
of Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker will take place Dec. 12 thru Dec. 27.
The Central Ohio Watercolor Society had both artwork and demonstrations
for event goers setup at the Meeting Haus
We found this Nativity display next to a house as we slowly wended our way
southward on Third Street toward Schiller Park.

The luminaries seemed to be everywhere on the brick-lined
sidewalks and streets of German Village
We found the streets bustling with activity near Schmidt's Fudge Haus.
This Fudge Haus employee donning a Santa hat was preparing free
samples of fudge for passers-by, an offer we could not refuse. With our
sweet-tooths fully activated, we dropped in to buy more of their goodies.
Likewise, the Schmidt's Sausage Truck was doing brisk business
next to the Striezelmarkt.
The folks at Kolache Republic (who had an awesome artichoke and spinach
kolache at the event, BTW) had mentioned to us a fun little house with
a nativity scene and all sorts of other unique Christmas-oriented displays.
I realized after getting back home and reading the event flyer that this was
the house to which they were referring. We skipped by this place
as we were feeling the need for a bite to eat.
Currywurst! Members of The Columbus Maennerchor, the oldest and largest
continuously operating German singing society in the country, was selling
this uniquely German fast-food dish to help raise funds for their organization.
Both recorded and live music could be heard throughout the German Village
neighborhood. Here near Pistacia Vera, the Capital Pride Holiday Brass Band
entertained event goers with holiday standards.
For Village Lights and other German Village area events, please contact:

German Village Society
C/O German Village Meeting Haus
588 South 3rd Street
Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 221-8888
Facebook    Twitter   Website