Columbus: The Home of Lots of Dumplings, National Pistol Champions and 60000 Nuts

The last leg of my Midwest road trip was a stop in Columbus. It seems I have circled around Ohio’s capital in the past but visiting cities including Cleveland, Cincinnati, Dayton and Pittsburgh. My understanding of Columbus is limited to its place as state capital, the home of a recently decimated NHL hockey team and of course, the location of THE Ohio State University.

To me THE Ohio State University has always been a castle in the kingdom of post-secondary folklore. It is loathed especially by Michigan, anybody in the Big 10 and well… pretty much anybody within a 200 mile radius who isn’t a Buckeye or Buckeye fan. In fact, just a few weeks ago, an American colleague (and Indiana native) of mine couldn’t help but roll her eyes at the sheer mention of my presence anywhere the campus. Just the look of Urban Meyer, the celebrated ex-OSU head coach who in his tenure of 8 years scored a national championship, makes most football fans wince. You have to admit, calling yourself “THE” in any context is pretty ballsy, especially in light of the many Ivy league schools which display their pride in less overt ways such a participation in college Jeopardy competitions and high sales of “My kid goes to Harvard” bumper stickers. That said, maybe the OSU claim is justified. Let’s look at 5 reasons why:

  1. The school is in the top five nationally for student enrollment. I guess when 60 000 students think they are the best, they are the best.
  2. Their mascot is a tree nut with a face and a body which has got to be as tough as a wolverine or a badger, possibly through the induction of allergic reactions among those who dare question their authority.
  3. Rumour has it that their reluctance to surpass rival Michigan in stadium attendance is the sheer fact that they don’t want to close off the bottom of the complex and have to think up a nickname other than the horseshoe.
  4. There is something to be said about 100000 people who can spell a four letter word (no it’s not any of the vulgar words coming to mind..it’s O-H-I-O) for 10 minutes before kick off. Thank god Columbus isn’t the capital of Massachusetts.
  5. Screw football…OSU has won 9 national men’s pistol championships since 2000 and 32 national woman’s synchronized swimming championship since 1977. Michigan, on the other hand, has only won 8 men’s hockey championships and none since 1998…losers.
  6. Famous alumni include George Steinbrenner, Jack Nicklaus, Roy Lichtenstein and R.L. Stein…the thought just gives me Goosebumps.

Honestly, part of the reason I have avoided Columbus until now is because until recently it has been void of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives which I find ironic given Columbus is the birthplace of host Guy Fieri.  Of the six DDDs which now populate the capital, I managed to hit half of them during my short trip.  The first was Loops (named after the L-line), a Chicago sandwich shop which pays homage to most the Windy city as well , of course, THE Ohio state.  Among the many sandwich and dog choices on the menu, I opted for two of Guy’s choices from the show; the Italian Beef and the authentic pork gyro “done the right way”.    They came unapologetically wrapped in foil street vendor style.  The beef was loaded with giardiniera (pickled vegetables) and the gyro with the traditional lettuce, tomato and tzatziki.  I much preferred the Italian Beef, possibly because of the promise of Chicago  authenticity (giardiniera atop beef is classic Chi-town). Also, I found the pork a little dry but it was helped by the sloppiness of the rest if the sandwich including the aforementioned sauce.

Stop two was the much anticipated North market (located in a rather surprisingly nice downtown area complete with brick streets and the attractive Nationwide arena). The market houses the second DDD, a Nepalese dumpling house called Momo Ghar which has gained national popularity on social media and other foodie channels.  Nepal (probably less recognized than it’s capital Katmandu which has been a celebrity refuge for many and theme of the Bob Seger song of the same name) is sandwiched between China and India so it’s not surprising that its culinary influences come from both sides of the border. I can best describe Momo Ghar’s offerings as hakka dim sum. Strong Indian flavours of cilantro and cumin filled the Asian style chicken and pork dumplings which were served atop a flavourful sauce resembling a thin curry.  The side of potato salad also had Asian flair..kind of like if Nepal was fused somewhere between India and the United States and hosted a picnic. In addition, the market offered a number of other vendors including Flavor and Fore, a great hot sauce and salsa shop, Penny’s Meats (hey I have to mention a butcher with my last name!) and  Destination Donuts, who sweet offerings and sweeter staff were enticing enough to make a trip back over the border with me back to Ontario.

The final DDD was Pierogi Mountain.  There are two locations and both are hidden within the kitchens of Columbus bars which makes understanding where and when to find them a bit confusing.  One is a late night punk bar near OSU and the other is in a cocktail bar called Wunderbar located in the historic German village in central Columbus.  It seems quite a symbiotic relationship as I imagine drunk punks and hipsters would love to scarf down pocket potatoes in the wee hours of the morning after pounding Miller High Lifes and listening to bands named Acid Angst or the Beard Scratchcards. Pierogi Mountain offers a lunch service right in the kitchen while Wunderbar is closed so I had to forego the punk bar scene (in which neither the bar or the kitchen opened until evening anyway) and order alongside a rather adorable old couple who was less than decisive. It’s also cute to watch old people loudly read the menu items to each other and then argue about each other likes and dislikes. “Henry, you won’t like those beer pierogies and I don’t want you drinking before noon”. “Nevermind Margaret…I wouldn’t dare order the meatloaf because it won’t be as good as yours. “Oh, Henry, that’s sweet”. Henry gets beer pierogies…the end. The pierogis were soft, flavourful and nicely pan fried without excessive grease.  The stewed onions were a delicious condiment, sweetened nicely to compliment the sour cream.  I also ordered their special; a meatloaf with a cheese gravy which, despite sounding a little odd, was surprisingly complex and quite satisfying.  

  Honorable mention goes to Rooster’s, a local roadhouse chain with big ass cheap beer and heaps of butter laden wings. I also have to shout to , who was probably the most courteous Uber driver I’ve ever had.

In sum, Columbus is worth another visit which I may plan immediately after the next Michigan game to either relish the win or snicker somewhat in the loss as I read “How I got my Shrunken head” aloud on a street corner or scream “I Don’t Care! I’d rather drown than.. call Brad for help!” over and over as I streak across campus. If not, I’ll just hit the other three DDD and call that a major win.

Crossing Cleveland’s Cuyahoga from a Faux Jewish Deli to a Real Italian Joint with a Flight in Between

After a bit of a break, the request to pay my $25 renewal fee for my web domain reminded me that I need to at least attempt to justify the cost to keep the name and a recent jaunt down to the Midwest seems a perfect start to the new fiscal year.

The intent was to eat my way through parts of Ohio starting in Cleveland and ending in Columbus.  As usual, these gluttonous escapades usually encompass a combination of James Beard nominees, triple D’s and some degree of celebrity chef stalking. I’m no stranger to the city of Rock and Roll but the Buckeye city is new to me.

I figured there was no better place to start than Ohio City, the trendy Cleveland suburb on the West side of the Cuyahoga river. The plan was to head to the Larder Delicatessen and Bakery, a deli nominated as a James Beard semifinalist in the best new restaurant category this year.  Set in a old firehouse, the interior looked like a library of hipster libations. Bottles of homemade palatable potions lined the walls and the utensils were shelved atop an antique stove tucked away in the corner. Despite the cooler full of kosher pickles and deli salads, it’s hard to call this a true Jewish deli.  Sure, I could have ordered gefilte fish or rugulach as well but there was no shortage of pork on the menu either.  In fact, I opted for a from scratch pork shoulder Reuben.  The bologna sandwich, which I assumed contained some sort of non-cud chewing creature but was too afraid to ask, was also unorthodox…at least in Cleveland terms.  It seems a standard Cleveland Bologna sandwich is adorned with lettuce, tomato and mayo whereas Larder’s take used carrots and old (sharp) cheddar.  Despite the deviations, both sandwiches were creative and thoughtful and demonstrated the from scratch mentality reminiscent of the phenomenal Reuben at Lucky’s cafe a few miles down the road.

Satisfied with foodstuffs, I wanted to tickle my thirst sensors with a jaunt back down the road to Bookhouse Brewing on W 25th.   This time the walls were donned with books instead of bottles and games instead of gherkins.  It seemed sensible to opt for a sampler of drafts which included Life in a Northern Town (the word northern is certainly subjective given my home town is over 800 km north of Ohio City although it could be paying homage to the 1985 Dream Academy song), Study Session IPA (a reminder of the many university exam cramming sessions that ended up with a pint in hand), Bricks and Mortar (such a hipster term)  and a brilliant Key Lime Three out of Five Gose. The experiment lead to a couple of Crowlers (specifically the first two), a 32 ounce emperor can spun to seal after filling.  I figured downing a half gallon of Key Lime would have been like eating a whole pie vs just a slice.

I had no idea as to the importance of summer family reunions in US culture.  Upon checking into the Embassy suites that night in Cleveland’s Beachwood area, I realized the lobby was inundated with red, yellow and green shirts representing a few clusters of families from all over America.  When I asked the bartender later that night, she informed me that a chunk of summer banquet business are family reunions and outlined the normal itinerary; meet, mingle (plus/minus argument), picnic, formal dinner, church and/or depart depending on the amount of time it takes to get home.  In fact, she was not attending her own reunion given the fact it was in Jacksonville, Florida which was too far and much too humid.

Dinner plans included a conquest of my only outstanding Diner, Drive-In and Dive in Cleveland.  Geraci’s, a long standing Italian joint originated in the University Heights area, recently opened a second location in Pepper Pike.  Although not the original and official DDD location, I chose the latter because it was a lot closer to the hotel and took reservations.   I felt like a little less of a cheater when I saw Guy’s smiling face hanging on the wall.

Geraci’s followed the classic Italian restaurant blueprint; bread, salad (Americanized with shredded mozzarella cheese), pizza, pasta and a handful of classic Italian desserts.  However, with a number of clever cocktails and craft beer on the menu, they did colour outside the lines a bit which did remind me that I wasn’t at the likes of  Tony V’s in Sudbury.  For example, cute clothes pins and Ohio’s own Raspberry-infused Watershed Gin resulted in a creation that was another notch on my pink drink bedpost.

Guy’s promise of great pepperoni was fulfilled on a simple pizza with some added sausage.  The crust was a bit on the crunchy side and overall the excessive saltiness was somewhat saved by the fresh vibrant sauce.  The same sauce was the basis of a very classic and delicious lasagna which would be the same way to describe the tiramisu.

In the end, it was a good day with a game of true and false, some sudsy studies and an old school Italian place which had a family vibe that partially replaced being left out of the multitude of family reunions at the hotel I was at. With the Cleveland core surrounded, day two would involve a trip downtown in search of another brew or two and a maybe a game of Symon says.

FDR, CIA and DDD: A Summary of Central NY acronyms

Stop one of my annual summer road trip was to the heart of New York state to check out the Culinary Institute of America  (CIA).  Its flagship campus it located in Hyde Park which also happens to be the birthplace of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Unlike the other CIA, FDR had very little do with the cooking school. Although both CIAs were formed a little more than a year apart following WWII, the school was originally founded in Connecticut and did not relocate to Hyde Park until 1970.  The CIA (the school that is)  has produced some of America’s most notable celebrity chefs including Marcus Samuelsson, Anne Burrell, Michael Symon, Duff Goldman and the late Anthony Bourdain.

We arrived in time for the daily 4 pm tour which is conducted by students within the school.  Our guide, Ezra, showed us many of the ongoing stations and classes within the main building which ranged from fondant to rock candy to baguettes.  We were told of the hours of home practice required to perfect the tournee cut, a skill often used as a screening tool at interviews  all over.  There was an interesting discussion about the differences between the baking  vs cooking stream of students.  The bakers are meticulous (aka boring) while the cooks tend to be quite eccentric. (aka annoying).  It was quite surprising how the tour did nothing to mention the aforementioned celebs and seemed more a recruitment tool in the event I wanted to quit my job and enhance my cooking credentials beyond a “Dad’s grillin’ so everybody’s chillin'” apron.  I’d clearly opt for the cooking side of the curriculum and more specifically the culinary science arm so I could use words like “oxidative enzymatic browning” with an enhanced confidence.

cia campus
Culinary Institute of America Main Campus

cia 2 campus
Culinary Institute of America- Hyde Park Campus

Of note on the campus tour was “Old Diamondsides”, a sculpture representing the Atlantic Sturgeon, a vital species inhabiting the adjoining Hudson River. The life size   depiction is constructed from hundreds of pieces of recycled cutlery  and is meant to represent the struggle of such a magnificent species to survive in spite of over fishing, pollution and other human interference.

cia-fish.jpg
“Old Diamondsides” Sculpture

Although Guy Fieri is not an alum of the CIA, I would feel remiss if I did not venture to the Eveready Diner,  Hyde Park’s lone contribution to the DDD empire.   Characterized by neon lights and chrome finish, this old school diner promises big portions and great desserts and didn’t disappoint on either front.  The spinach dip was a bit watery but flavourful.  The consensus at the table was that the chicken salad, burger and mac and cheese were all quite acceptable although the potato salad was a bit bland. Plus, a sunnyside up egg on a burger can brighten any plate up. My mom (caught off guard in the picture above) is till talking about the cheesecake (which i think she ate before i got snap a pic).

The day ended with a hotel stay in New Paltz, New York. All  I can say is that it is one of the more interesting U.S. towns I have stayed in.  I should have known when I checked into the Hampton which was recently built directly adjacent to the Put Corner historic graveyard which houses the remains of 120 residents of the town placed between 1801-1880.  Two celebrity graves, that of heavyweight boxing champion Floyd Patterson and Oscar Tschirky, inventor of the Waldorf salad, are also buried in town but not in the plot hugging the Hampton. A visit to the really creepy dollar store down the road was surely a foreshadow for my visit to Bangor the next day and easily could have been the setting of supernatural anarchy in a Stephen King novel. Who needs Pennywise when you’ve experienced the horrors of a New Paltz dollar store.

 

New Orleans Day 1: Hanging in The Garden of Eatin’with a Few MoPhos

I have heard mixed things about New Orleans.  Some have told me they love the party atmosphere while others say the city was a mess before Katrina and is even worse after. I landed with “New Orleans is Sinking” playing over and over in my head.  The flight from Detroit was decent and was made more exciting by a half dozen drunkish but well-behaved  guys who were on the way to a bachelor party.

My goals for the day were simple. First, I wanted to get accustomed to the weather which  characterized by constant humidity, warm nights and random thunderstorms.  Second, I wanted to explore the city a little and hit up a few DDDs along the way. Third, I was looking forward to ending by going to the James Beard nominated Mo-Pho for dinner.

Once I hit the hotel, I began my trek toward the lowering garden district which is characterized by small shops and some of the hottest restaurants in NOLA.  Among these eateries lie 4 triple Ds. My first stop was Joey K’s, an American restaurant with a cajun/creole flare and daily specials ranging from oven roasted turkey to ham hocks with lima beans. I was surprised how busy it was given the time of day.   I sat at the bar and was greeted by a friendly waitress who promptly served me a frozen goblet of Abita.  Afterwards, I chatted with the waiter and, given I had just landed, decided to go authentic with the eggplant napoleon appetizer ( I was drawn to the crawfish cream sauce) and rice and beans with smoked sausage. He chuckled a bit and suggested I stick with a side of the rice and beans since the appetizer was “big”. It was a good call.  The eggplant was huge and ridiculously delicious.  It was served piping hot and the sauce was the star.  The rice and beans were bona fide belly friendly and I was quite happy I didn’t opt for the full portion.

In the end, Joey K’s has a fun vibe, good service and great food whether you are looking for comfort food or authentic southern cooking.

Food-4.5 Guyz

Service- 4.5 Guyz

Vibe- 4 Guys

Total- 13/15

My second stop was Mahony’s Po’boy which was located just a little down the road in the Garden district.  It wasn’t nearly as busy as Joey K’s but it was a bit later.  Once again, I was greeted by a friendly waitress who recommended a Abita Strawberry Harvest Lager which was the perfect pairing for the heat and humidity.  The Po’Boy is a New Orleans staple which legend says was named after the fact that striking workers were named poor boys and that restaurateurs Benny and Clovis (great names) Martin coined the term for that reason.  The peacemaker is a particular po’boy which at one time contained shrimp and oysters but has evolved (at least in the case of Mahony’s) as a sandwich with one or the other.  After a chat with the waitress, I opted for the fried oyster version.  I realized I’m not really a fan. I love raw oysters and frying them is a disservice, especially when served between a toasted baguette, especially when the condiments are skimpy and the cheese isn’t melted.

mahonys sandwich
The Peacemaker $14.95

Food- 3.5 Guyz

Service- 4 Guyz

Vibe- 3 Guyz

Total- 10.5 Guyz

My third stop in the Garden district was the Creole creamery,a rather unorthodox DDD in the fact that all they serve is ice cream.  From reading the reviews, I was told to expect bold and unique flavours.  Deep down I was hoping for something really cool like rice and beans but that said, there was still some interesting choices.  Even better was the fact they offered a 4 scoop sampler for $4.50 which allowed for a little diversity.  I decided on cream cheese, hibiscus cranberry, thai basil coconut and magnolia flower. When I have ice cream I hope the custard base balanced enough to give great mouth feel but not so overwhelming that it masks the unique flavour of each offering.  CC passed the test.  Each scoop was distinct and recognizable.  The magnolia flower was the best of the bunch; it was subtle but very present. The environment was very American ice cream parlor but the service was quite laissez-fare.

creole creamery ice cream
Croele Cream Cheese, Hibiscus Cranberry, Thai Basil Coconut and Magnolia Flower Sampler  $4.50

Food- 4/5 Guyz

Service- 3/5 Guyz

Vibe- 3.5/5 Guyz

Total- 10.5/15 Guyz

I was hoping that a 15 km walk through the garden of eatin’ would burn some of the food I ate and get me ready for my nightcap at MoPho. Lead by James Beard and food and wine “best new chef” Michael Gulotta, MoPho is best described as Southeast Asia by way of New Orleans. I was excited to see how exactly the two would be fused.

The location is a bit of a hike out of our New Orleans core and the space itself is very stripmally. That said, the interior is a trendy interpretation of a Thai joint and they have a great and nicely cheesy patio out back which we braved along with the normal early summer humidity of Louisiana.

For the most part, the menu was straight forward Thai and Vietnamese with a little Southeast America in the form of Cedar Key clams and P and J oysters.  Other hints of New Orleans included Creole cream cheese (similar to the aforementioned ice cream) roti and  annatto (a condiment commonly used in Latin food sometimes in the Philippines) beignets. They also offer a nice array of local pints which strengthened the local flare just a bit.  

We ordered an array of dishes including the Som Tan salad, mimita brisket, clams, paella, the pork belly bowl, wings, brussel sprouts and the lamb curry. In general, the flavours were very South Asian and one would need to use their imagination a little to fully appreciate any huge gulf coast influence.  That said, the food had good, aggressive flavours and a nice amount of spice. If you are a fan of a delicate pho, “the standard” was a bit heavy compared to most I have had.  The roti and the beignets were delicious.  The brussel were the comfort foodie food and the wings were a decent representation of this seemingly southeast staple.

In the end, I was hoping for more of a Southeast meets Southeast experience but that said, it was still a tasty experience in Thai/Vietnamese fare.  In general, Day 1 was a good day. Traditional food started the day and some Asian fusion ended it.  It was clear I needed a few more days of stuffing my face before I could reach a verdict on the state of the dining scene in a city that the Tragically Hip have assured me has been sinking for almost 30 years.

MoPho Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Waffles, Kibble, Rhine and PBR in Cincinnati

I reverted back to increasing my Diner, Diners and Drives tally on my recent trip to Cincinnati.  It was an easy call since three of them are less than a block away from each other on bustling Vine street. Over the course of two days I hit all three; one for breakfast, one for lunch and one for dinner.

When Guy Fieri was only 10 years old, WKRP in Cincinatti hit the air.  I remember watching the short lived sitcom (four seasons to be exact) as a kid.  It featured a group of misfit radio personalities at a radio station in the Ohio city.  The cast, headed by Andy Travis (not to be mistaken for Randy Travis) featured the likes of Johnny Fever, Venus Flytrap and Jennifer Marlowe.  Andy may have precluded the hipster movement by frequently donning plaid shirts and luscious locks.  Howard Hesseman, who played Johnny Fever,  went on have success as the lead in the sitcom Head of the Class and Loni Anderson will go down in history for certain features and for being remembered as Mrs. Burt Reynolds until the end of time.

wkrp_cincinnati_complete_series_dvd
The Cast of WKRP in Cincinnati

 

In honour of this cult favorite, here’s an overview of Taste of Belgium, Bakersfield and Senate, three of Cincinnati’s Vine street triple D joints.

W- (Waffles and Wright).

Taste of Belgium boasts waffles done right so it seemed to be the ideal breakfast spot.  The decor had the brick walls and tiled floor characteristic of Over-the-Rhine eateries. We were seated and greeted but a waiter with a definite chip (unfortunately not chocolate) on his shoulder.  He was efficient but far from welcoming.  I ordered a decent Americano and the McWaffle, a breakfast sandwich containing egg, bacon, cheese and served with a side of maple syrup.   The waffle itself was far from the fluffy batter you might bake up at the free Hampton breakfast.  It was much denser and more filling.  It flirted with dryness but was helped by the syrup.  The combination of everything made for a good but not remarkable bite that was a lot sweeter than the service.

 

Daniel Wright is the brainchild behind Senate, the street food pub which revolves around the ultimate street meat..the hotdog.  In addition to tube steak (including a daily dog names after a celebrity), there are a number of items including bites, burgers and sandwiches. It had a good vibe highlighted by a long packed bar surrounded by tables. Since it was over twenty degrees, the front window/patio was open and I managed to score a seat overlooking the street.  Our waitress was attentive although somewhat overshadowed by this dude in a vest and tie walking around like an..umm…senator.  As tempting as the Mama June celebrity dog of the day was (you can imagine the toppings), I opted for the best selling trailer park burger, mainly because it was topped with Cincinnati’s own Grippo’s crushed BBQ chips atop a bacon wrapped dog and finished with slaw and american cheese. It was a delicious mess.

senate dog
Senate Trailer Park Dog $10

K-(Kentucky and Kibbles)

Bakersfield is a taqueria which is gradually expanding in all directions from it’s Cincinnati epicentre.  Also focusing on Mexican food, the booze menu is expansive, not only including traditional tequila but also whisky from the neighbouring state of  Kentucky.  In fact, I was there on a Monday night which meant I could get a shot of Bulleit for $3.  Add a $2 boot of PBR and I’m two thirds of my way to a George Thorogood song for $5. I felt bad to the bone.  As for kibbles, the guacamole at Bakersfield was fresh and chunky (which I’m sure is Cincinnati style)  and aggressively seasoned with garlic which was paired nicely with one of the best (and spicy margaritas) I’ve had in a while.

R- (Restaurants Over-the-Rhine)

Defined as one of the most historic neighbourhoods in the US, the Over-the-Rhine area of Cincinnati has deep German roots and architecture dating from the 19th century.  Over the years, it has debilitated into one of the sketchiest area in the states.  For example, the area was used as the backdrop for the 1991 movie “A Rage in Harlem” because of it’s resemblance to 1950’s Harlem.  However, over the past decade or so, there has been major restoration, at least along the southern part of Vine St, resulting in a trendy neighbourhood full of shops and restaurants including the trio of triple D’s mentioned in this blog.  I was speaking to a table of locals at Bakersfield and they confirmed this restoration story, telling me that crossing Liberty street to the North after dark was once  a death wish but ven that is slowing changing.  That said, I late took a drive north up Vine St.to check out the University of Cinicinnati  and passed through one of the most decrepit neighbourhoods I remember, easily rivaling  Michigan St. in Detroit, parts of  Harlem and the worst part of San Francisco’s tenderloin district.   Restaurants like Taste of Belgium, Senate and Bakersfield are part of the nucleus in a molecule of hope working through the celebration of food.

1383
Cool Floor at Taste of Belgium indicative of Cincinnati architecture.

P (Pastor, Potstickers and Poutine)

The foundation of the Bakersfield menu is the taco and there are almost 10 to choose from.  They pride themselves on making their own tortillas and ironically, that was the weakest part.  I felt they tasted a little raw as if they were only fried on one side.  They were nicely presented on a large tray with abundant fillings at a reasonable price point of $3-4 each. The pork belly pastor were a good representation and the spicy cochinita pibil and huitlacoche tacos were quite unique.

Meanwhile at Senate, the potstickers were full of extreme Asian flavours and the poutine was served with short rib and cheese  and since a white gravy was used instead of the traditional (at least in Canadian terms) brown one, it was more creamy than squeaky and quite rich to say the least.

My Take

Based on my ongoing Guyz rating for diners, drive-ins and dives, none were a disaster but  I’ll  give top taste, service and vibe points to Senate. The vibe of all three were helped by the cool architecture but the buzz at Senate and Bakersfield was much better than the sleepiness and snarkiness of Taste of Belgium.  Service wise, both Bakersfield and Senate were pretty good. Regarding the food, the Senate hot dogs, in addition to being pretty delicious, are a great concept especially with the rotating celebrity choice of the day.  The Bakersfield guacamole was good and the tacos were average.  Taste of Belgium served a decent breakfast.

In the end, Over-the-Rhine is a fun and buzzing area with a number of funky restaurants, shops and snacks.  In fact, Vine Street may be the best thing in Cincinnati’s food scene since WKRP’s  turkey bombing of the Pinedale mall on Thanksgiving in 1978.

Senate

Food- 4/5 Guyz
Service- 4/5 Guyz
Vibe- 4.5/5 Guys

Total- 12.5/15 Guyz

Senate Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bakersfield

Food- 3.5/5  Guyz
Service- 4/5 Guyz
Vibe- 4/5 Guyz

Total- 11.5/Guyz

Bakersfield OTR Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Taste of Belgium

Food- 3.5/5 Guyz
Service- 3/5 Guyz
Vibe- 3/5 Guyz

Total- 9.5/15 Guyz

Taste of Belgium Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

DDD:Toking at Tommy’s Joynt although Cheech was the Californian

I was excited to drop into Tommy’s Joynt for an afternoon bite.    Touted as San Francisco’s original Hofbrau, it has been serving a menu centred on carved meat sandwiches since 1947.  They take pride in a no frills attitude and keeping prices low.  In fact, the only three  menu items over ten bucks are the famous Buffalo Stew, braised  oxtails with pasta (served Monday) and  braised  lamb shanks with vegetables (served Thursday and Sunday).  The hunks of meat sitting in the cafeteria style chafing dishes right inside the door while the rest of the place is a seating area complete with a bar serving local craft draught, international bottles and  cheapish cocktails. The cast of characters ranged from young to old, regulars to tourists and hipsters to those with with artificial hips.  The decor is a reminder that it’s been open for almost 70 years.  Hundreds of knick-knacks fill the walls, shelves and any other square inch of available space.  It’s like a yard sale on steroids.  They’ve never changed their style, they just added to it. It’s like a timeline of post WWII Americana scattered all over the place.

Apparently Tommy’s is “Where Turkey is King” so I strolled to the counter and ordered the roast turkey sandwich for $6 along with a side of mixed pickled beans for $2.65.  The guy behind the counter pulled out the bird, carved some meat off the bird and slapped it on a fresh baguette with a side of au jus.  As magical as Tommy’s was, they still couldn’t solve the dry poultry issue.  You can’t keep a turkey in a chafing dish and expect it to stay moist.  That said, the au jus added flavour and moisture to the sandwich.  The bean salad was pretty typical.  I thought things like the barrel of complimentary pickles (complete with a sign telling you not to abuse the pickle pecking privlegdes) to the  strategically placed mustard jars were a nice touch.

Turkey Sandwich $6 with Pickled Bean Salad $2.65
Turkey Sandwich $6 with Pickled Bean Salad $2.65

My Take

Tommy’s Joynt is a west coast version of a Hofbrau, a casual German eatery with focus on beer and food.   Having no idea who the place is named after, I figured it might be Tommy Chong (of Cheech and Chong fame). Ironically, Cheech is the Californian (Chong is a good old Canadian).  I mean, the psychedelic paint job on the outside, the easy access to copious amounts of food, some clientele that look like they have hot boxed a few million times and even the fact it has “joynt’ in the name makes my theory somewhat viable. In fact, after a drag one might relish staring intently at the numerous trinkets which populate the walls and shelves.  That said, the food was reasonable, the vibe was good but it just didn’t give me the “high”  some of the other Diners, Drive-ins and Dives did.

Food- 3.5 Guyz

Service- 4 Guyz

Vibe- 4 Guyz

Total- 11.5 Guyz

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Reciting the Litany of the Saints along Elvis Presley Boulevard- A Trip to Marlowe’s

My trip down the music highway ended in downtown Memphis. After hitting the hotel and checking in, I decided on dinner along Elvis Presley Blvd to familiarize myself with the strip in anticipation of my visit to Graceland the next day. Running on fumes, the valet parking guy assured me there were plenty of gas stations along the strip. Despite my basic competence and ability to read google maps, I took a wrong turn to make things exciting. Once I found my bearings, I watched the gas gauge countdown…15 km…10km….5 km….0 km. The Jetta is a bit forgiving and it certainly wasn’t the first time I needed to pray to St. Frances of Rome, the patron saint of travelers (who was said to have an angel light her path with a lantern and protect her from hazards,  for assistance).  In fact, I was so desperate I even sent a prayer or two to St. Elvis Aaron Presley himself.

My prayers seemed to work because on the horizon I could see a gas station with the words “diesel” written across the sign.  A closer inspection of the property quickly shifted my  beseeching to St. Christopher, the patron saint of protection against muggers.  I reluctantly pulled in despite seeing a rather well lit and clean gas station across the street that may or may not have had diesel so I couldn’t risk it.  I went in, slid my credit card  through the hole in the Plexiglas to the apathetic attendant and scurried out.  I pumped and got out of dodge.

A couple of miles down the road I saw Marlowe’s, my destination for the evening.  Featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, it’s known more for a wide array of paraphernalia dedicated to the king.  For example, it runs a free pink Cadillac shuttle from local hotels.  The interior is filled with hundreds of tributes to Elvis…there are pictures, a barber chair, his karate outfit and a looping video of his greatest live performances. My fear was that this was a typical tourist trap and that more effort was put into the decor than the food. I have faith in St. Guy Fieri, however, and that troth was confirmed when I saw the majestic smoker that sat beside the gift shop.

Marlowe's Smoker
Marlowe’s Smoker

Marlowe's Interior
Marlowe’s Interior

It goes without saying that I had every intention of raiding the smoker.  So, I conspired with my daughters to maximize my exposure to the various proteins.  They split a BBQ combo which included 2 entrees and 2 sides ($22.95).  Not to get into the nature versus nurture discussion but the fact that my youngest daughter’s love for slaw parallels mine would make for a good case study.  With her slaw she ordered the  brisket, ribs and fries. The meat was tender and full of smoky flavour despite efforts to douce them with copious amounts of sauce. Not that the BBQ sauce wassn’t good; there was just a lot of it.  My daughter gave the slaw two thumbs up.

Slaw and Fries
Slaw and Fries

 

Beef Brisket and Ribs $22.95
Beef Brisket and Ribs $22.95

 

I decided on the BBQ spaghetti so I could indulge on the BBQ pork and experience what the menu calls “Italian Food-Memphis Style”.  In keeping with the Tennessee tradition of serving sides as big as the mains, the spaghetti came with a good size bowl of beans and mac and cheese.  Once again, the predominate flavour was the delicious BBQ sauce which doused the spaghetti. The pork was delicious and matched the ribs and brisket in rich, smoky flavour.  The mac and cheese and beans were  good B-sides to the proteins.

BBQ Pasta $13.95
BBQ Pasta $11.95

Mac and Cheese and side of beans
Mac and Cheese and  beans

My Take

Marlowe’s succeeds in that it puts the food before the fact that it located only minutes from Graceland.  Sure, you are inundated with all things Elvis including a pink limo, but the commitment to good food is evident, highlighted by the very impressive smoker  which “graces” the busy interior.  The smoked meats were delicious even though they were heavily sauced in the traditional Memphis “wet” style.  Like I mentioned, the B-sides made for good eating as well.

It goes to show that flashy gimmicks can exist in conjunction with big taste and flavour. Despite the need to pray to St. Frances and St. Christopher to get to Marlowe’s, there was no need to extend invocation to St Lawrence, the patron saint of restaurateurs. I explored the origin of St. Lawrence.  Such namesakes  include the Laurentian mountains and the gulf of St. Lawrence,  one of Canada’s most important waterways.  What’s more interesting is the morbid reason he is associated with restaurants.  Without going into detail, he was martyred by fire. In fact, many depictions have him holding a grid iron (see below).  Ribs anyone?

 

Statue of St. Lawrence beside the namesake river
Statue of St. Lawrence beside the namesake river

 

Food: 4 Guyz

Service: 3.5 Guyz

Vibe: 4.5

Total:12/15 Guyz

 

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