Nostalgic Noshing: Clancy's Hamburgers (Sidney, Ohio)

The lone operating location of the now 50-year-old company 
Clancy's Hamburgers forges onward in the western Ohio town of Sidney.
In many ways, this trip went farther than the hundred or so miles that it took to get to this western Ohio town. The travel was really back in time a couple dozen years or more for my spouse, when a couple dollars and a couple blocks walk could get her and her siblings a tasty cheeseburger and fries.

I imagine this was the experience for quite a few small town Ohio residents who grew up near a Clancy's Hamburgers restaurant. Started in Noblesville, Indiana in 1965 by Carl Fogelsong, Clancy's tried to bring what seemed to be the fast food concept with extra dashes of quality, community involvement and hospitality to places where the still growing national chains at the time would not venture: small town America.

Perhaps the embodiment of the restaurant's initial intentions lies in its namesake mascot, Clancy the Keystone Cop. As detailed on the restaurant's webpage, when Fogelsong spotted the caricature in an old film, he thought Clancy was a perfect representation of someone who was a quality, well-liked and friendly individual, traits he wanted his restaurants to present to customers.

At its peak around 1980, Clancy's had 31 restaurants scattered in small towns in Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio, including but not exclusive to towns like Bucyrus, Tipp City, Fremont, Urbana and Galion. But surely enough, those more well-known, highly publicized chains did make their way into smaller corners of the country, and places like Clancy's slowly faded away due to the competition. My spouse's hometown outlet closed its doors by the time 1990 came around, and she thought that the restaurant chain and that familiar mascot itself had also become mere memories.

But lo and behold, a simply-curious-to-see search on Facebook revealed that the keystone cop was not dead yet. The company was still alive; in fact, it had held a 50th anniversary celebration in the town where the business originated. And one lone survivor outpost, planted in the middle of western Ohio in Sidney, was within about a two hour drive of us. We made a pact that if we were out that way, we would have to stop by for a bite.

The exterior and interior don't look like much, but little details
give little hints to Clancy's way of doing things
Architecturally, Clancy's doesn't look like much either inside or outside, but we discovered little details that hinted at the company's past at this lone surviving outlet. Flyers and ads for various community events and businesses were evident on the walls and the menus. Vintage overhead lamps, decked out with the restaurant's keystone cop mascot, provided the most eye-catching visual.

Also, Midwestern hospitality was evident from the staff behind the counter as well as the folks who had gathered for a meal. Seeing our obvious interest in the interior, they asked about us and proved truly interested in my spouse's bit of nostalgia for her local Clancy's outlet. These folks' pride in their Sidney-based restaurant was also quite evident.

Clancy's "Home Cooked Meals" daily specials offer a novel twist on the fast food concept. These offerings give diners the choice of all-you-can-eat options on the weekends (fish on Fridays, and fried chicken on the weekends) as well as a rotating international/manager's special option on Wednesday. The list of items offered on this day ranged from homey (creamed chicken and lasagna) to more intriguing options like regional favorite Johnny Marzetti and Native American (with a Cherokee Casserole and Fry Bread.)

With a somewhat tight time schedule and nostalgia bringing us here in the first place, we stuck with the fast food options. My spouse couldn't NOT order her traditional cheeseburger and fries, while I was struck by some food items I would never see in California fast-food joints (sloppy joes and fried bologna sandwiches) and went with a country fried steak sandwich.  My sandwich was merely okay, but the other two items did draw some kudos. From my research, Clancy's had a reputation for good fries and these medium-cut wedges didn't disappoint, with a great golden brown color and not a limpy stick in the batch.

And the burgers were good for the fast-food variety, in the general range (for me) of a Wendy's or even an In-N-Out burger. Clancy's prices are as inexpensive as you'd find at any of the big name chain places as well.

This lone outpost of Clancy's will always be a destination for those with fond memories of the little Midwest chain that for awhile could, and the community seems to give the restaurant more than enough economic fuel to keep the cooking fires going. Clancy's may not necessarily a destination drive in and of itself, but if you're driving through the area looking for a grab-and-go fast food meal, the slight detour into town will get you just as good a meal with a side dish of Midwest history

I do hear in some circles that purposely choosing a big chain over a place like Clancy's might be considered a crime. You might even be brought up on charges, but this guy will definitely be friendly about it.

Clancy's Hamburgers
1250 Wapakoneta Ave
Sidney, OH 45365
(937) 492-8820
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Clancy's Hamburgers Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Ninth Annual Cbus Jimi Hendrix Tribute Show (11/20/2015)/Brothers Drake/Tokyo GoGo Food Truck

This Friday, my spouse and I had the pleasure of a return visit to the annual Cbus Jimi Hendrix Tribute Show, held around the date of this legendary guitarist's birthday (Hendrix would have turned 73 years old on Friday, November 27th.) This gathering, put together by Theo Perry (of Theo's Loose Hinges), brings together a collection of talented local musicians to blaze through a number of both familiar and deeper Hendrix cuts.

Unlike previous years, a scheduling issue brought the show from its usual home at SoHud's Rumba Cafe to the sophisticated digs of Brothers Drake, located where the Weinland Park and Short North neighborhoods intersect. In addition, the show was forced to an earlier than normal time slot (the guitar strumming began in earnest during the meadery's happy hour.) These changes, however, didn't stop a large crowd from showing up to watch locally talented guitarists pay homage to a man who still holds incredible influence in today's music world.

Jeffro Jam of Jam Cave Productions led things off with a version
of Hendrix's "Star Spangled Banner" on his Keytar, and came back
with a Hendrix-styled montage that referenced artists
like Prince and Bob Marley

Veteran jazz guitarist Derek DiCenzo got to let loose some rock chords
on Hendrix favorites like "Manic Depression" and "Purple Haze"

Kenny Delicious, aka Kenny Caterer (drummer for Theo's Loose Hinges
and Lead Singer/Guitarist for Doctor Kenny Delicious), cranked out
the well-known "The Wind Cries Mary" as well as deeper
album cuts like "Castles Made of Sand" and "Red House"

Event organizer Theo Perry seemed to channel Jimi himself on his
renditions of "Machine Gun", "Crash Landing" and "Foxy Lady"

David Martinez of The Old Norths and Slight Rebellion finished out
the solo portion of the show with Jimi tunes like "Stone Free",
"Voodoo Chile" and "Bold As Love"
Columbus musical veterans Maxwell Button (drums) and
Nathan Smith (bass) provided solid backing throughout each set
All performers joined each other on stage for some final Hendrix
tunes, including a rocking version of Jimi's "Hey Joe"
For future information about next year's Jimi Hendrix tribute series (next year's tenth annual show, to be held sometime in November, should be a momentous one indeed), please refer to Theo Perry's Facebook feed.

Brothers Drake/Tokyo GoGo: I had previously blogged about Brothers Drake (and their sister meadery on the West Coast, San Francisco Mead Company) on this prior blogpost. We had become intimately familiar with their mead products over the years (and of course, we couldn't not order a mead drink or two on this occasion) but until this visit had no thoughts about exploring the cocktail side of the menu.

Brothers Drake's Meadhattan and Wild Sweet Annie, prepared with
care by one of the meadery's bar staff members
This new outlook on the mixed drink side of the adult beverage world was inspired quite a bit by revelatory experience received this summer. when we had a taste of the world-class cocktails during our fine tasting menu dinner at Delaware's Veritas Tavern. Since then, we've been willing to explore this world a bit more, and the unique mead-based offerings of Brothers Drake provided an intriguing opportunity. Indeed, from their Meadhattan (Wild Ohio mead, mixed with OYO Bourbon, cherry juice and Angostura bitters), the Wild Sweet Annie (my spouse's go-to this night, with Wild Ohio Mead, OYO Whiskey & ginger liqueur) and the Rosemary Fizz (a mix of their Motive Mead, Watershed Gin, lemon juice  and soda water along with a sprig of fresh rosemary) provided tasty accompaniment to the music this night.

Providing the food this night was what can be called Brothers Drake's resident food truck. Tokyo GoGo, operated by chef Miki Ashino, offers a selection of  Japanese-styled bar food items with a rotating selection of daily specials, as well as a special Ramen night on Tuesdays.

Clockwise from top: Karaage (flash-fried chicken thigh pieces), Pork Gyoza
Dumplings, and Korokke (fried potato balls with molten cheese interiors)

For just under $20, we picked up four different items that not only paired well with our mead drinks, but also were quite delicious in their own right. Their special of the night, fried tempura fish cakes, were nicely crispy with a pleasantly fresh-tasting, lightly chewy filet, while the Korokke balls and uniquely fried pork Gyoza dumplings (which came attached to each other in what seemed to be crepe form) were gobbled up with equal enthusiasm. However, our favorite dish by just the tiniest of margins so far is the Karaage - this crispy savory dish is a definite reorder again on a future visit.

As equally good as the food items were the variety of multi-profiled sauces that came with each item; we found ourselves enjoying experimenting with how the different sweet, spicy and savory taste profiles each item interacted with each dish. We look forward to another sampling of this food truck's offerings on another future visit to the area.

Brothers Drake Meadery
26 E. 5th Ave (Short North/Weinland Park)
Columbus, OH 43201
(614) 388-8765
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Tokyo GoGo
typically in the parking lot of Brothers Drake
(614) 916-6476 (MISO)
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Tokyo GoGo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Two Brews High and Rising: Four String Brewing/Sideswipe Brewing

A more and more pertinent question for fans and member brewers of the ever growing craft beer scene in Columbus and Ohio in a general is a simple one: is the market getting too saturated with new arrivals? Based on recent visits to two of Columbus' member breweries, we believe there's still plenty of room to grow.

Four String Brewing: I have written about Four String Brewing not too long ago on this blog post, and Jim Ellison, owner of the CMH Gourmand blog and head guru of Columbus Brew Adventures, wrote an excellent summation around the occasion of the Four String's fourth anniversary of owner's Dan Cochran's unique efforts to lift his business to the heights as one of Columbus' bigger brewers.

Further proof of their success was lent to us during the first of a series of "Beer and Donuts" events, put on by the Columbus Craft Beer Alliance (CCBA) last Saturday. A good crowd came out to this inaugural event, which is meant to give attendees a behind-the-scenes look at the member breweries as well as commiserate with fellow local craft beer lovers and the brewers themselves. Four String's brand new facility on the west side of Columbus proved to be a perfect launch point, laying out what we imagine will be the general itinerary of providing event-goers a chance to sample the brewery's offerings as well as discs of delicious fried dough goodness from a local eatery.

In the latter's case, the donuts were provided by Lyric Donuts. Michael Murtha, who works as a barista at Impero Coffee, launched his line of donuts late summer at this Short North coffee shop along with pop-ups at the Old North-located Ace of Cups bar and music venue. Throughout the event, his inventory of musically-themed, mainly cake-donut-based treats were devoured by event-goers, ranging from the basic (the plain cake donut "The Boss", referencing Bruce Springsteen) to the Ozzy's Bat Head (a dark chocolate donut hole with espresso glaze named for a rather notorious incident in this rocker's long career.) Our personal favorite (and a favorite for many we chatted with, we figured out) proved to be the Lime in the Coconut (a nod to Harry Nilsson), made with toasted coconut flakes and coated by a delicious lime glaze.)

CCBA representative Jamie Gentry gave an overview of the "Beer and Donuts" events as well as the local craft beer scene as a whole before turning things over to Four String Brewmaster Larry Horwitz. Due to the number of event-goers, two tours of the facility were given by Horwitz, and we decided to hang back for the second tour. When the first tour returned, everybody was treated to the highlighted pairing - the perfectly matched Velvet Underground (a light and airy creation with a daintily delectable banana custard filling) and Four String's Vanilla Porter, A bonus treat was that we along with other members of the second group got to take this rather neatly matched duo along with us as we walked through the facility with our brewmaster.

The whole tour itself was quite informative, and Horwitz was quite welcoming and appreciative of the folks who showed up on this day. Perhaps the most revealing part of the tour for us was the sheer size of the space (the former home of a defense and space materials production company) - as he pointed out early, the brewery's existing taproom in Grandview Heights could fit several times over in various sections of the new facility.

Also revealing was the main production area, which provided a contrast between the brewery's beginnings (the line of "Frankenbrewing" tanks from their original Grandview location that actually still do play a role in the brewing process) amidst much larger and more sophisticated brewing equipment (capable of up to 8,000 barrels per year, nearly tripling the brewery's existing capacity.) This new equipment is vital in the efforts to get Four String's products distributed throughout the state of Ohio, but despite the brewery's growth, current plans will keep the brewery's unique beginnings alive. Their original Grandview location will remain open and feature the company's "Solo Series" line of oddball and one-off brews.


With more similar events planned for the future (a December beer/donuts pairing at downtown's Wolf's Ridge Brewing is already sold out, while an event at Lancaster's Rockmill Brewery is possibly in the works), CCBA's "Beer & Donut" series provides a unique look at the local craft beer scene, and provides event-goers fried doughy goodness as a bonus. That's a pretty hard pairing to beat.

Columbus Craft Beer Alliance
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Four String Brewing
660 N. Hague Avenue (Production Facility - Valleyview)
Columbus, OH 43204
- and -
985 W. 6th Avenue (Taproom - Grandview Heights)
Columbus, OH 43212
(614) 725-1282
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Lyric Donuts
(found within Impero Coffee Shop)
849 N High St. (Short North)
Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 294-2489
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Sideswipe Brewing: Although on the completely opposite end of the production scale (the term "nano-brewery" definitely fits ex-martial artist Craig O'Herron's operation), Sideswipe Brewing, located in a somewhat hidden industrial corner of West Columbus on the other side of I-670 from Grandview Heights, also provides proof that Columbus' craft beer scene has plenty of room to grow.

When we traveled up to the Denver area to a slew of Fort Collins' area breweries (for more details, check out these two posts on our visits to  Big Beaver and Odell and Funkwerks and Equinox) my wife's brother, a home brewer and Columbus ex-pat, informed us that any brewery who wants any kind of longevity in that area must have expansion in their initial business plan after a year or so or be left behind in the area's substantial craft beer wake. The fact that Sideswipe, which hasn't grown substantially since their opening in November of 2013, is still holding their own in their little industrial park space and will grow, given the opportunity, speaks just as loudly to Columbus's still untapped (no pun intended) craft beer potential.

For now, Sideswipe's growth can be measured mainly in taproom improvements. In this case, a year between visits for us was quite insightful, as the somewhat limited, slapped-together seating has now been replaced with more organization and more seating. The move of the tap system from across the space to against the wall, along with the construction of an actual bar setup, has really increased the feel-at-home factor. Keeping in the trend with other beer-oriented places, a small selection of both adult- and kid-oriented games area available for patrons' usage; snacks have also improved with the addition of items like OH! Chips. While our previous visit was sparsely attended, this Friday night was nicely buzzing with chatting, happy customers, and the taproom itself is open on more days than previous. These may be small steps forward, but they are highly welcome steps indeed.

The upper left two pictures show Sideswipe's old setup; the rest of
the photos show the current, more friendly to customer setup
For the most part, the flagship beers that we tasted on the previous visit were here on this visit, with the exception of a new OH-Kolsch (our previous visit had an experimental Mosaic/Palisade Hop Experiment available as well as the last dregs of the summer-oriented Pixelated Sun Wheat beer.) This time around, we had pints of beers we tried in flight form on the previous visit: the Fisticuffs IPA again satisfied my spouse's hophead tendencies, while my Elegant Hoodlum has the right kind and quantity of smoky characteristic which mesh well with enough hops to balance things out.

But in reality, the favorite for both of us from this nanobrewer is a beer style we're generally not fond of in general. The best pumpkin beers for us are more restrained affairs rather than the highly spiced affairs that tend to dominate; Sideswipe's Squashing Pumpkins, with its just enough clove and cinnamon flavor profiles blended with the flavors from the carmelized squash used in the brewing process, gives us that just right taste and mouth feel combo that makes this a must get if we see it on the shelves.

Sideswipe Brewing
2419 Scioto Harper Dr. (Valleyview)
Columbus, OH 43204
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Sideswipe Brewing Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Capsaicin Chronicles (Pt. 3): Eat A Pie of Fire and Fry (Mikey's Late Nite Slice)

'Twas the bringer of death, fiery death...
It's not every day when you put in an order at a restaurant where your server looks at you with deep concern and asks, "Are you sure?"

It's even more of a rarity when you're asked to sign a waiver before the restaurant prepares your order for you. But that was the case for my spouse when she put in a recent order at Columbus' beloved Mikey's Late Night Slice.

Mikey's Late Night Slice has seen numerous iterations throughout
its six-year history in Columbus, with its latest outlet opening on
4th Street in southern reaches of downtown
Started in July of 2009 mainly due to an "common man" concern noted by owner Mike Sorboro (a noticeable lack of a place to buy pizza-by-the-slice within the area), Mikey's Late Night Slice has become a prominent presence on the Columbus culinary landscape, sporting three current locations, a fleet of mobile trucks and several stands within corporate and music-oriented facilities.

Starting with my first slice (bought at their "Shack" location next to the Oddfellows Bar in the Short North) I learned pretty early on that Mikey's offers up what I like to call "common man's pizza". It's not necessarily the best pie around, nor is it really gourmet in any way, but it provides a fairly inexpensive way of satisfying your pizza cravings (especially as you get into the more wee hours of the evening) and in Mikey's case, they do it with a bit of a fun, slightly irreverent edge. This is perhaps best typified by "Pizzaface", their rough-hewn logo that appears at many of their special events as well as merchandise, as well as their notoriously-named most popular dipping sauce (Mikey's has changed the name from that what-some-consider offensive term to an unpronounceable symbol, borrowing a page from the R&B artist Prince. In terms of California experiences, Mikey's reminds me of places like Blondie's in Berkeley and Emeryville's Rotten City Pizza in terms of same general vibe and same general level of pizza.

It makes total sense, of course, that a place like Mikey's would occasionally come out with a pizza with an edge to it. in the form of  "Fiery Death and Hate Sausage," available for a very limited time each year and the cause of the server's quizzical response and the reason for the signed waiver.

A closeup of this capsaicin-loaded monster, prepared with the help
the local master of all things spicy in Westerville's CaJohns
In collaboration with the local kings of spicy preparation in Westerville's CaJohns Fiery Foods, this pie's potent combination of ghost and scorpion peppers was enhanced by the addition of the Carolina Reaper pepper, rated as the world's hottest pepper. The pungency of this terrorizing trifecta of peppers was bludgeoningly noticeable when we pulled our slices from their paper sleeves. With two other slices of "normal" Mikey's styles also on hand, we debated as we poured a glass of beer to enjoy with our pie: do we get the heat out of the way first or last?

There really only was answer. We both grabbed our Fiery Death slices and went for the gusto.

The first bite actually wasn't bad at all, with the combo of cheese and pepper flavor rapping out a joyful dance on our taste buds. Then we took the next bite, and all hell broke loose. The omnipresent spice finally unleashed its full fury, putting our mouths aflame and releasing a ring of sweat on our brows. The capsaicin also induced an annoying but thankfully brief round of hiccups for me and gave my spouse a bit of a red mark on the skin just outside her mouth.

At this point, the challenge to finish the slice was as much mental as it was physical, but we both figured out pretty quickly that found that the intense spike of heat had pretty much plateaued into a constant burn that we could handle just fine. The little hunks of so-called Hate Sausage (spicy but nowhere close to what the peppers had in store) and the crust provided brief respites from the constant burn, and we proceeded to devour this igneous tasty triangle to the last crumb.

With that said, we were quite happy to get a cool down with split slices of Mikey's regular sausage and mushroom styles. As we chomped down on these, we thought about the event that this eatery would be putting on later in the week, where contestants had to down three of these fiery beasts as well as an entire Carolina Reaper pepper and pondered whether we could ever compete and complete that particularly brutal challenge.

Interestingly, we thought it was the volume of food that would be the bigger hurdle than the heat content within the food items consumed. And we realized then and there that by thinking that way, we both had become freaks of nature to an extent. Also, we knew that another slice of the Fiery Death would be on the docket for next year.

Mikey's Late Night Slice
268 South 4th St (Downtown)
Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 737-3801

1030 N. High Street (Short North)
Columbus, OH 43201
(614) 737-3488

15 East Duncan St (Clintonville)
Columbus, OH 43202
(614) 262-0680
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Mikey's Late Night Slice Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Capsaicin Chronicles (Pt. 2): Hotter Than Hell-oween (Double Comfort's 2nd Annual Spicy Food Challenge)

The sign was no joke for those folks who returned for Double
Comfort's Second Annual Helloween spicy food challenge
As noted in our first of this series of blog posts, my spouse and I share a mutual love of hot and spicy food. One thing we were curious about as we made more explorations into this world was a simple thought: how far was our ability to take the heat progressing?  After vague notions of seeking out some sort of food challenge, a prime opportunity dropped in our lap last year when we learned about a special event then-newcomer to the Columbus food scene, Double Comfort, had put out for Halloween.

Dubbed the "Helloween" challenge, diners who dared take it on were treated to Chef Dan Varga's spicy takes on multiple dishes. As detailed on this previous blog post, we found the food was all ultimately delicious and, save for the truly tongue-roasting etoufee, well within our tolerances that we had built up at the time. Many like us who participated in last year's challenge were successful in claiming that victor's T-shirt, and we got word from the staff that should there be a return of the challenge, the heat would most likely be amped up in the chosen dishes.

In the year since that challenge, we knew from our continued exploration of all things spicy that our capsaicin handling abilities had grown quite a bit. Would the second edition of Double Comfort's Helloween food challenge, held the day before Halloween, raise the ante as well? We were quite eager to find out.

Like last year's event, Double Comfort's staff were appropriately decked out with various Halloween costumes and a festive spirit was in the air as we took our seats for our second go-around.  Event flyers sporting the names of the big boys in the chili pepper world (Trinidad, Ghost, Carolina Reapers and 7-Pots) seemed to warn (scare away?) prospective challenge-seekers that the kitchen wasn't messing around this year.

Whereas last year's menu was a full seven-course meal, challenge-takers this year were given a menu of seven small plates items (there were actually two different desserts in the pie and ice cream.) Diners could choose any three of the dishes, and those who finished them off would receive this year's version of the champion's T-shirt. However, those who failed would be subject to last year's treatment: an ice pop and a fair amount of friendly taunting from the restaurant staff.


We decided to go with standard meal structure and ordered what seemed to be an appetizer, a main and a dessert. It was apparent pretty early on as my spouse dove into her Ghostly Fried Pickles (while the ranch sauce was delicious, we purposely did not use to dip except for that initial tasting to keep with the spirit of the challenge) and I my Freaky, Fiery Sweet Potato Fritters (marvelously redolent habanero and Trinidad pepper smells wafting into our noses) that, indeed, the folks at Double Comfort weren't fooling around, with a layer of sweat forming quickly on our foreheads. Still, this was well within our new tolerance levels, which gave us a chance to secretly wish these items were on their menu at least on a every-now-and-again basis.

I got a bit of a break with my main in the Satan's Ribs (Bacon Ribs coated with a super spicy rub blend) in that these marvelously delicious ribs were also quite juicy and fatty, dulling the sting just a bit. The side of Jalapeno Slaw that came with the plate also provided a limited bit of relief from the now constant burn. My spouse, on the other hand, was smacked upside her mouth big time by the combo Chicken from Hell and Mac N Cheese (crisped up in a waffle iron(!)) laced with Ghost Pepper. For the briefest of moments, my spouse had a doubt about this might be too much heat to handle, but she buckled down and got through this dish.

The desserts were no slouch in the heat department either: the Chocolate Cayenne Ice Cream was noticeably more mouth warming than last year's edition, while the Hotter Than Hell Pumpkin Pie combined spicy hot with traditional pumpkin pie spices in a very tasty package. But again, compared with the dishes before, this closing part of our meals played the role of mental victory laps at this point of our meal.

As we awaited this year's edition of the T-shirts given to challenge winners, my spouse and I got to muse on the dinner just past. Yes, we were pretty happy to how far we had progressed in terms of our ability to handle the heat, but we were especially satisfied with just how tasty all the preparations were. Upping the heat did not downgrade the delectable nature of these well-prepared dishes (we actually wouldn't mind seeing a spicier rendition of some of  Double Comfort's regular items as an option on regular day visits.) Couple the great food with this restaurant's continuing mission to fight hunger by giving proceeds to local food pantries, and you have what constitutes a gem of a restaurant.

We look forward both to our next meal at Double Comfort and (fingers crossed) a chance at a third edition of this spicy challenge next year.

Double Comfort Restaurant
505 N. High Street (Downtown)
Columbus, OH  43215
(614) 745-2183
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Double Comfort on Urbanspoon

The Capsaicin Chronicles (Pt. 1): laa gòn and chôhk dee, Westgate Thai

Alas, the spicy and delicious concoctions of Westgate Thai are
soon to disappear to the public at large in a matter of days
As one may have figured out from other posts on this blog, my spouse and I do have an appreciation for hot and spicy foods. We feel fortunate that we have been able to seek and find plenty of opportunities in the Columbus area to push our abilities and test those tolerance levels. Even more rewarding is that many of the dishes we have sampled have not simply been one-note heat bombs but rather flavorful, well-made preparations.

Such is the case with Westgate Thai, a little eatery hidden in the back of a market which was written about just a few months ago in this blog post. Similar to Hot Chicken Takeover, a place also known for their spicy fried chicken (and written about in this blog post), Westgate Thai's dishes come at adjustable spice levels. Gary, the husband and co-owner of the restaurant, makes sure everyone knows that these levels go from one through twelve, and that most people find level four a bit too hot.

We had no such compunctions, so we asked for a nine on our dishes. However, we suspect that we may not have received that heat level based on some reader feedback which stated that Gary usually doesn't give you the requested burn level until he gets to know you better. Even with that possibility, the burn level on these dishes was still quite pleasant; however, the play of the heat with the sweet, sour and tangy profiles we received in our dishes was the real revelation here. These dishes were definitely a step up from dishes from other Thai restaurants we've tried so far here, thanks to the expert hand of Gary's wife, Westgate co-owner and chef Mali,

I figured I would be writing a revisit post a couple years from my original writeup, but alas, the march of time leaves no one behind, and Gary and Mali have announced their retirement from the restaurant business come the end of this week. We made sure to sneak down there at least once again on what seemed to be a sinfully slow Monday evening business-wise a week ago or so.


Perhaps the little insider's info we received about toning down spice levels was confirmed on this visit. Despite us saying we had done a level 9 on our first visit and were ready for the proverbial full monty of 12, Gary gave us a little bit of a wondering stare and marked down a level 10 on our orders of Pad Thai and Yum Woon Sen. Mali herself came out during the middle of our meal to check how we were doing, encouraging us to up the spice level with the assorted chili oils on our table if we felt like adding some heat (and who are we to say no to the chef?)

Again, we received a pleasant burn with these two dishes, and the fresh ingredients and seesaw of flavor profiles that were evident on our previous visit's dishes were present here as well. My spouse's Yum Woon Sen, with its bean thread noodles and hunks of protein (here, beautifully cooked shrimp and ground pork) reminding a bit of the mish-mash of ingredients that go into Filipino pancit and its bihon noodle base. The Thai fried egg rolls we ordered as an appetizer also reminded me quite a bit of the Filipino renditions, save for the nicely spicy dipping sauce.

It may have been a brief flirtation (we ourselves will try to get down there one more time), but it was a fruitful one for us with Westgate Thai. We both wish Gary and Mali the very best, and encourage anyone who can to make that trek down to their back-of-the-market eatery to pay them one more visit for delicious Thai eats.

Westgate Thai
3201 Sullivant Ave (Westgate/Hilltop)
Columbus, OH 43204
(614) 725-5660
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Appalachian Adventures (Final Chapter): Tu-Endie-Wei, Zoar, and Beer along the Muskingum

Our visit to Point Pleasant, WV, showed us to our pleasing surprise that this little river town has a bit more to offer outside of the Mothman mythos. One was already written about in regard to the U.S. Navy Poster Museum; this final post on our trip talks about the history behind Tu-Endie-Wei State Park.

Ohio itself has plenty of history to go around; while our earlier visit to The Serpent Mound detailed this state's original inhabitants, our visit to the Zoar Historical Village detailed one of one of the more unique groups of European settlers to set up their home within this state's borders.

In between these two visits, we dropped into Marietta, the first permanent settlement northwest of the Ohio River, to check out where the locals drop by for some locally brewed beer and pub grub.

From the Wyandot word for "point between two waters", Tu-Endie-Wei
State Park in West Virginia turned out to be much more than a pretty view
Tu-Endie-Wei State Park:  The point of land that holds this state park would be a in-the-area destination if only for the pretty view, combining multiple river bridges as well as the confluence of the Kanawha and Ohio Rivers. But the impossible to miss monument centered on this property gives the visitor the hint that there's something much more to this piece of land other than pretty views and nicely manicured greenery.

Although unintended, our visit to the park came on a rather momentous day: roughly 240 years prior, what some historians have dubbed the first battle of the American Revolution took place upon this Point Pleasant site on October 10, 1774. At that time, clashes with Indians were commonplace, and seen by American forces as possibly detrimental in a possible conflict with mother country Britain, especially if Britain were to ally with the natives.

After signing a peace treaty with Iroquois Nation and Delaware tribes, Governor of Virginia Lord Dunmore meant to quell rebellious Shawnee and Mingo tribe factions to the south, led by Chief Cornstalk, by teaming up with appointed commander of Virginia's militia, Andrew Lewis. Suffice it to say, the battle was brutal (300 deaths spread between both forces) but successful for the colonists, as it led to a treaty where Shawnee and Mingo forces would remain neutral in any American-British encounter.

Numerous monuments related to the signature battle which occurred
on park land, the Battle of Point Pleasant, are scattered around the park.
Also located at the park is Mansion House, the oldest hewn log house in the area (and originally run as a tavern) that has been preserved and turned into a museum run by the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Open from May to October, it does not look like much from the outside and actually looks on the smallish side, but the visitor will find more artifacts, bits of local history and other items of interest stuffed within this building's multi-leveled interior than one might think.

On a side note, if you do get the chance to walk along the river on the Point Pleasant side, be sure floodwall murals (similar murals reside in other towns further down river such as Portsmouth, OH and Covington, KY), which provide a artistic rendition of life along the river as well as important historical events in the area, including those which took place at Tu-Endie-Wie.

Tu-Endie-Wie State Park
1 Main Street
Point Pleasant, WV 25550
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The Zoar Store, where most people's tour of this historic
Ohio village just north of Dover starts

Zoar Historic Village: Located just northeast of Dover and New Philadelphia, Ohio, the historic settlement of Zoar provides an incredibly detailed look at a unique group of settlers who made their communal way of living work for over over 80 years.

Formed by a group of 200 separatists escaping religious persecution in their home country of Germany, Zoar Village was founded in 1817 with a communal arrangement. In something of a Cliff Notes version of basic operations, Zoar society members were assigned tasks to keep the village functioning, and all goods produced were shared equally among all in the village. All needed goods and wares were produced among community members, and with the generally rough living conditions and the need to conserve limited resources, a philosophy or reusing goods and building things to last was commonplace among members of the village.

We had previously visited a similar town/state park in the Gold Country of California in the historic town of Columbia, and there are definitely some similarities to these two places. However, we found that Zoar had a more down-to-earth quality to it, and the exhibits that were opened (coming during off-peak tourist season and a Sunday meant that some exhibits were closed) gave us a more detailed look at what the hardship the original settlers must've felt versus the cleaned-up view of mining life that Columbia presented.

After checking in at the Zoar Store/Visitors Center (here you can purchase souvenirs as well pay admission for a wristband that will let you into all the open exhibits), we walked two blocks to the Town Hall, one of the last buildings built by the society and currently home for two museums. After a helpful video introduction to the Zoar society, we wandered through this two story building and saw a rather extensive collection of tools and personal artifacts gathered from the original Zoar settlers.

The well-preserved nature of many of these items is a tribute to the Separatists' mantra of taking care of their belongings and creating them to last. This building also holds items for the Ohio & Erie Canal Museum: Zoar and Bolivar were on the southern stretches of this transportation pathway from the Lake Erie region, proving especially vital for the first couple or three decades for Zoar settlers (the canal's importance declined starting in the 1850s when the railroad became the dominant mode of transport of goods and people throughout the country.)

Next, we ventured to the Number One house (residential houses were originally numbered to help make the distribution of goods an easier process) where society founder Joseph Bimeler and Zoar trustees once resided. Within this solidly built house (this can be visually seen quite well when touring the basement) visitors can get not only an idea about the functional quarters the settlers lived with, but also the laundry areas as well as the magazine, where goods were stored and available to distribution to all village residents. One also can further sample the great craftsmanship within various collective members, with perhaps the most striking being in the organ handcrafted by Peter Bimeler, great grandson of Joseph and the miller for Zoar during its later years of existence.

Other exhibits, original Zoar houses turned into private residences (while they are not open to the public, visitors are free to walk through the streets and view these 19th-century era homes) and businesses (including a tavern and a bed and breakfast) are scattered throughout the village. However, the undeniable centerpiece of the village remains the Zoar Garden. Anchored in the center by a large spruce tree (meant to symbolize everlasting life), the garden acted then as both a spiritual haven (the numerous paths emerging from the center are representative of paths to Heaven) and a source of sustenance to village members (the grounds then and still grow vegetables and fruits.)  On this sunlit day, we couldn't help wander through this area and feel at peace with life in general, free to ponder what the original settlers were thinking dozens of years ago as they did the same.


While the original Zoar collective officially disbanded in 1898, the pride in what those original members were able to accomplish in their nearly 70 years of existence remains strong today with their descendants. We felt fortunate to experience that while chatting with one of the village's current docents, who had set up shop inside Number One House to guide that day's visitors. We learned that she was descended from the Bimelers of Zoar, and her obvious excitement in being able to relate her family's history to visitors like us in the actual living quarters of her ancestors was palpable and heartwarming. This conversation, above all, may have been the most satisfying moment of our exploration of this unique bit of Ohio history.

Zoar Historical Village
198 Main St
Zoar, Ohio 44697
(330) 874-3011 or (800) 262-6195
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Marietta Brewing offers a solid brew and grub option
for this river town's resident in the heart of downtown
Marietta Brewing Company - The town of Marietta, sporting 14,000 people at the last Census count and holding the distinction of the first American settlement northwest of the Ohio River, can be a bit confusing for first-time travelers coming north on Ohio State Route 7. After having West Virginia on the other side of the river for pretty much the entire route, I found myself a bit confused having to cross a bridge to get into Marietta, as I thought that we must surely be going into Ohio's neighboring state. Later, I was able to figure out that we were actually crossing the Muskingum River, and that Marietta was firmly ensconced in Buckeye country.

The building in which Marietta Brewing Company (MBC) resides may, for those familiar with the Columbus brewery scene, remind them of the building where Barley's Brewing Company resides. Its downtown location, high ceilings and brick-lined interior are obvious points of reference; the large murals inside MBC are also reminiscent of the posters which line Barley's walls. This brewery, which is the second incarnation of the concept (the first iteration of the brewing company was in 1866 on a site a couple blocks from the current establishment), was like Barley's similarly founded in the 1990s, some five years after Barley's was established in 1992.

Food-wise, MBC treads similar pub grub ground as places like Barley's or Mad Anthony Brewing in Fort Wayne, with a slightly more limited selection but with a pizza option. Obviously, this is a first impression based on just one meal (for my spouse, the steak salad and for me, a veggie pizza) but I'd put the food level somewhere ahead of Mad Anthony's and just slightly behind places like Barley's or even Smokehouse Brewing in Columbus, but more or less in that same class of brewpub grub that's perfectly pleasing with a brew or two.

Marietta also hones its focus in terms of its own brews, rotating its own seasonal around a base of five year-round beers. While the selection may be smaller than most, the beers we had were all at least better-than-average.The standout brew for us was their Esther's Raspberry Wheat, which compares quite favorably to the Razz Wheat that Jackie O's in Athens, Ohio produces. Another solid brew was their Stanleyville Milk Stout, a smooth and creamy rendition with a pleasant maltiness and coffee notes. If MBC's own in-house brews don't appeal to you, a wide variety of mainly bottled craft brews from all parts of Ohio (on our visit, at least two choices from the Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus areas were available) from all parts of Ohio and outside the state are available for your drinking pleasure.

Marietta Brewing Company
167 Front St.
Marietta, OH 45750
(740) 373-2739
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Marietta Brewing Co. Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato