Are you like I was, wondering why you should eat, drink and get merry in Columbus, Ohio?
Perhaps a lobster cone and a black orchid cocktail from M, Cameron Mitchell’s marquee restaurant and bar, will persuade you.
Last month, I received an invitation from Weirick Communications to pal along with a group of colleagues, (food writers, travel writers and bloggers) on a food press tour.
Excitement to bewilderment might describe my feelings when I found out the destination was Columbus, Ohio. In my former career as a national accounts manager, I had visited just about every city in America, including Dayton, Cincinnati and Cleveland. Columbus was never on my radar, but that has changed.
When I visit a city, I look for two things right way. Food and architecture. I first ventured into Goodale Park in Victorian Village, near our hotel and was captivated by unusual period architecture with tile roofs. This house had a matching carriage house and a lot of history in a neighborhood that has enjoyed a comeback. My eye traveled from Spanish tile roof tops to handsomely laid historic brick. I quickly noticed a sophisticated sense of aesthetics and style in what I had wrongly considered a middle American city with a lack of personality.
By the time my trip was finished, I dubbed Columbus as the darling of the Midwest.
Nashville is the darling of the South right now with its up and coming restaurant scene and notorious ability to create celebrity. As Nashville is music and food, Columbus is design, food and let me not forget drink.
It’s the headquarters for the Limited and Abercrombie and Fitch, resulting in a culture of creative people with a high sense of fashion and design. This type of corporate culture lends itself to entrepreneurs stepping out with a good idea and taking it to market in style.
Local Talent and a Commitment to Local Sourcing is Fierce
Like Nashville, there is a throbbing city-centric pride for all things Columbus, with a strong penchant to support the local farmer, artisan and craftsman. In fact, Nashville and Columbus have something special in common.
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, a stop on the tour, has a very sisterly relationship with Nashville, contracting with Tennessee farmers for their earlier harvest of fruit which is then taken back to Ohio and blended with local fruit to make summer flavors, such as sweet corn and black raspberry, or peach buttermilk.
My all time favorite is the Goat cheese with red cherries on the left. Jeni’s busiest store happens to be in East Nashville, and many of the flavors proudly contain Tennessee produce.
It’s Green in Columbus
The Franklin Park Conservatory sits on 88 acres in the heart of the city, combining the love of edible gardening, botanicals, art, and food making the park a premier cultural center and a dream “event” venue.
When we entered, I noticed the modern and magnificent, hand-blown glass floating from the ceiling, one of many pieces of glass art by Dale Chihuly.
The Park has a live fire oven. I would be the first to sign up for the hands-on wood fire pizza workshop.
On a separate cultural excursion, we stepped into a famous George Seurat painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grande Jatte at Topiary Park, located downtown.
Val Jorgensen of Jorgensen Farms is very passionate about what she grows. She supplies many of the herbs in the local restaurants and in Jeni’s Ice Cream. We marveled at her willingness and commitment for long hours to preserve her dream. Once a month on Sunday nights, they host a farm to table dinner. An inspired pesto recipe will be coming using seven herbs.
Val Jorgensen believes “farming should be sexy.
I think Chef/owner of Skillet, Kevin Caskey, would agree. He strictly sources locally and he might even say breakfast should be sexy. His lamb hash breakfast took my breath away and I want it again.
Columbus is Spirited
Curio at Harvest is a great example of showcasing style, as vintage cocktails meet modern culinary creativity. We swooned over the Waylon Margarita made with kale, ginger and smoked salt. We conversed, and watched in awe , as
co-owner and mixologist, Travis Owens, wowed us with an array of bitters, clear ice cubes, and unusual combinations.
Middlewest Spirits, uses a one of a kind copper distillery to craft small batches of OYO Whiskey, Vodka, Honey Vanilla Bean Vodka, and Stone Fruit. OYO (pronounced Oh why Oh) is one of those examples of ex-corporate talent stepping out to produce a great local product in a stylish setting.
On a tour at Watershed Distillery, we were able to see how vodka is made. We tried to guess which botanicals and spices went into their gin, and I learned to play Hammerschlagen, proving I can hit the nail on the head. They changed a non-gin drinker into a gin drinker in one sip.
I tried my first mead at Brothers Drake, but you won’t be able to unless you take a weekend to Columbus, (which you should) because they don’t take their product outside the greater Columbus area. We happened to be there for International Mead Day and got to experience the celebration and a tour.
Columbus Eats Well
Our breakfasts were incredible, and the stand out place was Pistacia Vera, an authentic french bakery and dessert boutique. I’ll take you back into the kitchen so you can see what a real bakery should look (and taste) like.
Columbus is Fired Up
I had the best in-house smoked salmon of my life on a bagel at Tasi Cafe, and no kidding, the best pizza crust at the Harvest Pizzeria, (located next to Curio at Harvest). Maybe its the combination gas/wood burning stove that makes the crust chewy and crunchy.
We got knocked out by a very rare treat, Yakitori at Double Happiness, authentically prepared nose to tail with a side of the best french fries I ever ate, and I’m planning on getting that recipe so look for it.
I watched twenty people gobble down roasted zucchini with Pecorino like it was their last meal at Basi Italia, a small quaint place located in Victorian Village, with an even more charming outdoor patio. An inspired recipe for zucchini pecorino will be coming.
I ventured into new ground eating head cheese, spicy souse and tongue at Thurn’s Speciality Meats, a fourth-generation, local meat company, and loved every bite. The smoked beef jerky and proscuitto would pair great with Rockmill Saison, an organic farmhouse ale.
Beer Pairing Dinner
Did you know that good water is the secret to beer and that bad water enhanced its popularity?
When water contamination was a problem, farm workers were given beer, (liquid bread) to get through the day. In fact, in the middle ages, even kids drank beer because water wasn’t safe and it was a common beverage made by the housewives.
The minerality of the water at Rockmill Farm is nearly identical to the water used in belgium beer. Rockmill Brewery has the right water and understands beer.
G. Michaels and Rockmill Brewery teamed together to offer an outstanding meal with dishes like shrimp and grits that tasted like they came from the South, and my favorite dish of the night, the cocoa rubbed, bacon-wrapped Venison Loin with spinach and brandy poached figs. My favorite beer of the night, the Cask Aged Tripel, tasted like whiskey and accompanied the vanilla-infused Panna Cotta with a local melon compote, Gorgonzola cheese, and grilled local peaches. I don’t usually like modern desserts with four different components, but the addition of the beer made it work and brought all the flavors together.
G. Michaels is next door to the Book Loft, which happens to be open until 11:00 p.m. making it a perfect dinner ending. They really do have 32 tiny rooms, each containing very unique puzzles and I couldn’t leave without a shark puzzle that was 3D.
Dinin’ Hall – A Classy Way to Eat from a Food Truck
I met a woman who was bold enough to step out and rock the food truck scene by providing a sit down place called the Dinin’Hall, where I had my first yak farm burger and a salad with duck confit. The food trucks rotate the spot which is genius and brings excitement to lunch, which might end up being the new “dinner” if food trucks have their way.
Take a Food Tour and Experience the Diversity of Columbus
Did you know that Columbus boasts the second highest population of Somalians?
Columbus is diverse and there is a way to scope out this diversity with Columbus Food Adventures. They will take you to about 5 places in a 14 passenger van for a comfortable price of $60. We discovered the underbelly of strip malls, and their hidden jewels of ethnic food as we traveled to Somalia, Nigeria, Southern India and Viet Nam authentic eateries. We were on Adventures Alt Eats, but they offer many other food tours.
Speaking of ethnic food, the long over-looked Polish cuisine reigns supreme at the North Market. Hubert’s Polish Kitchen serves a pierogi that steals the show, made with potato, cream cheese and onion. It’s as big as my small hand and dangerously delicious.
The North Market is a dream shopping destination for a home cook/foodie. My purchases included Sicilian bread from the Omega Artisan Bakery (which we ate in one day). There is a distinct Italian flavor in Columbus and there were several vendors selling Italian food. I also came home with candied lemon dill Sonoma sea salt, compliments of North Market Spices.
On Saturday’s, the outside becomes the Farmer’s Market.
Columbus is a town for city walkers. We resided in the Short North Neighborhood, another revitalized area that was in decline a few decades ago. We could easily walk to several restaurants and bars, coffee houses, including the newly opened One Line Coffee and take in a few hours of shopping vintage, browsing art or perusing the North Market.
One Line Coffee, is a father/ son operation that is committed to clean, sustainable farming and knowing where the coffee comes from. They tell their story at their retail store with passion, hoping you will not just love their coffee, but will have a greater appreciation of the people, land, and farms behind the beans. Don’t expect big vats of coffee. Coffee cupping, one cup at a time delivers the freshest coffee experience.
When a neighborhood is as charming as German Village is, you know the food will be good and so will the drink!
German Village was built by immigrant Germans in the 1800′s, but faced grave decline as anti-German sentiment took over during World War I. Frank Fetch moved into German Village and established the German Village Society and in 1960 hosted the first Haus and Garten Tour. Today German Village is a historically preserved, prestigious neighborhood.
Helen Winnemoore’s Shop, established in German Village in 1938, will serve you tea and let you browse through drawers looking for unique, usable, wearable art.
The houses are storybook wonderful.
I loved these streets and I tried to envision a little of their history as we walked.
Frank Fetch Memorial Park in the German Village exemplifies community spirit as residents have taken care of this .2 acre park even years before a garden society was formed (and they still tend to walk over and lend a hand).
Columbus is Community
There is a piece of art work hanging on the outside of the Dinin’ Hall and I chose to put it at the top of this post.
Civitas Now means coming together in community. This describes my experience of Columbus perfectly.
Columbus, the 15th largest city in America, has city sophistication I look for, yet hasn’t sacrificed small town charm and community.
I think I love Columbus, and it seems our travel group felt much the same way.
To write or to tweet. Laura and Sarah from EatPGH, know food and will be releasing The Food Lover’s Guide to Pittsburgh in September.
Tell me, have you been to Columbus and do you have a special place I need to visit on my return?
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