23 March 2008

Pita Hut -n- Grille

I love Middle Eastern food about as much as Middle eastern food loves vegetarians. The sandwiches, sides, salads and spreads make for a healthy, delicious way of dining.

The reason why I stopped in the

Pita Hut on the way home from work is because they actually open at 10 am. I got off work a little after 10 am and I was driving around Columbus looking for somewhere to eat an early lunch since I had already eaten an early (4 am) breakfast. Sure enough, the Pita Hut answered my prayers.

One of the keys to healthy and delicious dining is the root of Mediterranean cuisine, olive oil. Pita Hut applies olive oil liberally to dishes, including my starter, baba ganoush. Baba ganoush is a roasted eggplant spread scooped up with warm pita bread. Anybody can make hummus; it takes a true artist to make good baba. The faint smokiness offsets the rich quality of the dip, making it a great starter.

The other key to the Middle Eastern dining experience is the falafel sandwich. While falafel by itself makes for a tasty treat, it reaches its zenith when it is combined with a pita, tahini sauce, vegetables and a cornucopia of other items. Some people like hummus, some like hot sauce; whatever your flavor, falafel sandwiches are the street cart fare of the stars.

Pita Hut's falafel sandwich starts with a whole pita opened at the top. The pita is coated in hummus before a pile of lettuce, tomato and pickle are added. The falafel is crammed inside while the tahini sauce is drizzled on the top. It is hot, delicious and filling.

It's difficult to spend a ton of money at Pita Hut. The online coupons make it even more difficult. The restaurant is designed more for take out than dining in, but there are enough spots to seat about 25. It is located next to Bob's Bar if you are familiar with the area.

Check out the pictures below, and if you have a hankering for a quality falafel sandwich, Pita Hut might be right up your alley.

Pita Hut

Pita Hut Grille on Urbanspoon

Bistro 86

Located in the midst of a desolate stretch of industry in Grandview, Bistro 86 offers a plethora of vegetarian options for the vegetarian diner (e.g. you). They offer traditional favorites alongside a few more adventurous offerings, and Bistro 86 is well worth tracking down if you're in the mood for carefully prepared Asian meals.

Bistro 86 has been the recipient of some fairly good reviews, both of the realm of newspapers and the blogosphere. Bistro 86 was also recognized as one of the area's top 10 new restaurants in Columbus Monthly.

The reason for this is that they make great food. The menu is laden with vegetarian choices. I started with the Vietnamese basil rolls, which use a rice wrapper filled with sprouts, cabbage, vermicelli, carrots and mixed greens with a heaping helping of basil that comes through beautifully on the finish. They are light and sublimely delicious, served with a side of peanut-sprinkled hoisin sauce.

Personally, as a vegetarian I have an aversion to vegetarian versions of carnivorous dishes. I have no need for a veggie burger, nor do I want a vegetarian chicken kabob or any of the other million dishes you can name in this vein. Sometimes I'll eat a veggie burger, for sure, but I have never seen the reason for a restaurant to undertake these useless endeavors.

The exception to this rule was found in Bistro 86's General Tso's tofu. This is a simple, classic dish that screams for the dead bird to be replaced with tofu. The cubes are breaded and fried, served in a slightly sweet but sneaky hot red/brown sauce with an abundance of Szechwaun peppers. It is flavorful enough to make chicken lovers bag the bird for good (On a side note, Maxim magazine did a feature on the mysterious origins of General Tso's chicken, which can be found here).

These are just two of the many vegetarian and vegan items on the menu. There is vegetable tempura, two vegetarian tofu stir fries as well as a vegan dish prepared with macadamia nuts in addition to other items too numerous to mention.

The staff is friendly and very helpful. The server spent time helping me pick her favorite vegetarian items from the menu. The one shortcoming (or benefit, depending on how you look at it) is that Bistro 86 has no liquor license. This means you can't order drinks with your dinner, but you can bring your own bottle and save the restaurant markup.

Bistro 86 is as good as advertised. Stop in if you're tooling around Grandview after checking out the pictures below.

Bistro 86

Bistro 86 on Urbanspoon

18 March 2008

The Sexiest Vegetarian franchise

PETA has expanded their sexiest vegetarian award to recognize people who don't have talent agents promoting their candidacy for World's Sexiest Vegetarian. The winners of the Sexiest Vegetarian Next Door were some douchebag named Chris (who cares?) and the lovely Shona Barnthouse from Utah.

I follow these awards religiously. I'm still upset that I haven't been nominated or recognized as the world's sexiest vegetarian. Perhaps I was too famous to qualify for the Sexiest Vegetarian Next Door. But I'm voting for myself on the next go-round.

As recognition of her talents, Shona won a weeklong trip to Maui for herself and a friend. Let me be the first to volunteer to be your friend Shona. I can rub suntan lotion on your back as we sip piƱa coladas on the beach enjoying vegetarian Polynesian eats. It would be a hell of a time. Call me.

16 March 2008

Due Amici

I've walked past Due Amici too many times to count. Since I always meet my buddy downtown for lunch, I figured that as due amici (two friends in Italian), we'd try it out for brunch.

I'm always a poor candidate for brunch because I hate breakfast food. The brunch menu was half breakfast items, half pizza and pasta dishes with a few other peninsular favorites thrown in to complicate my math. The dinner menu is larger and less egg-heavy. Despite my prejudice for early morning eats, the brunch menu did have some tempting-sounding options.

The interior is stylish and modern, with brick walls, black accents and white tablecloths. Due Amici are also open (gasp) seven days a week, which gives them my giant-pat-on-the-back award for downtown service.

The one hiccup that happened during brunch was that our pizzas took forever and a day to get out to the table. The server and floor manager graciously came out and explained the problem to me. I would have been very upset had he not given me the meal free of cost. My impatience for waiting was more than compensated by my strong desire to eat well for free. My complaints were minor, and I'm sure it will be ironed out by next visit.

My salad was baby greens tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette with red onions, crushed peanuts and strawberries. It was bright, fresh and flavorful.

The server was kind enough to tell me that almost anything on the menu, save for the items with meat already in them, could be prepared vegetarian. As a result I ordered the wild mushroom and sage goat cheese pizza minus the prosciutto. As with most Italian restaurants, however, there were at least a few vegetarian items on the menu that did not require special requests.

The pizza was larger than expected. It was larger than a number of other establishments that offer pizza for one and was more than enough to feed one person, even two people if it was shared with appetizers. The tangy acidity of the goat cheese was tempered by the mild mozzarella and the earthiness of the assorted mushrooms.

Despite the minor service setback which was more than made up for by the gracious service, most of brunch was enjoyable. I'll head back and try the dinner menu to make certain that the kitchen performance improves, but based upon the food quality, I'm sure it will. Check out the pictures below, and if you're stumbling around downtown looking for somewhere that is open on the weekend, definitely give due Amici a try.

Due Amici

Due Amici on Urbanspoon

15 March 2008

Cuisine of India

I finally made it over to Cuisine of India last night. They offer great Indian food at fair prices with a nice interior and friendly service. Last night's experience was no different.

The owner is very friendly and always remembers us when we visit. He started me off with a gargantuan Flying Horse Beer. Cuisine of India also serves a limited selection of cocktails and wine, but I've always held that Indian food was meant to be enjoyed next to a frosty pilsner. Sorry...that's just the way it is.

The samosas are absolutely outstanding. They are fried crispy and they are not greasy. The samosas are filled with a perfect mixture of potatoes, peas, onions and subtle spices. The fresh vegetable garnish elevates the dumplings to another level.

The bread is also great. You start out with crispy papadums, a cracker-like bread served with mint chutney and a dark sweet sauce as garnishes. We also ordered a mixed bread basket, which came with aloo paratha as well as plain, onion and cheese naan. The bread was steaming hot and delicious.

My main course was chilly paneer. Paneer is an Indian cheese with a mild flavor. It is used in cooking much the way that some people use tofu. This preparation featured cubes of paneer in a sweet, sour and spicy sauce with tomatoes, bell peppers and onions. It is pictured above.

There is a vegetarian page to the menu. There are also additional vegetarian dishes throughout the menu. The staff is very helpful to vegetarian diners.

The best news I got all night, however, came when I walked through the door. They had a poster of Zakir Hussain up because he is playing at the Southern Theater in May. If you need proof of Zakir's talent, this video might help (as would this one). I had a long conversation with the staff about Hussain's pedigree in music.

But greatest percussionists in the world aside, Cuisine of India is an absolute delight. Check it out if you're in the area, or even take a trip to this restaurant. It's well worth the effort.

Cuisine of India

Cuisine of India on Urbanspoon

ESPN censorship

So I realized while I was sending out an email to the members of my fantasy baseball league on ESPN that they edit all words out that contain a swear word. They censored the word bypass in my email because like 75 other words in the English language, it ends with the letters A-S-S.

What gives? What if I have to ask somebody on the league message board what kind of influence Dick Pole will have over a young player's career? Maybe I think that some guy is a 21st century version of Johnny Dickshot, and I need to communicate it to a league member to get a trade brewing. He isn't going to know who Johnny *%#$shot is. That's a problem. I should be free to say Dick Pole and Johnny Dickshot whenever I damn well please.

And what if Paul Assenmacher comes out of retirement? I won't even be able to trade Chen Ming Wang for him, because ESPN will censor my trade request.

Whatever. My last draft pick this year will be none other than Rusty Kuntz. Let's see them try to put a clamp on old Rusty.

14 March 2008

Cafe Lola

After reading the reviews in Columbus Alive and the Dispatch, I had to do lunch at Cafe Lola in scenic downtown Columbus. Lola's is a breakfast- (or lunch- or dinner-)in-a-hurry spot that features flatbread pizzas, quesadillas, sandwiches and salads with an avalanche of vegetarian options.

As expected, they were hopping busy at noon. The service was brisk. Although the line was long, I couldn't have been there more than a half an hour.

The vegetarian choices are plentiful. Many of the pizzas, including the above pictured choice of tomatoes, mushrooms and roasted red peppers with a pesto sauce and mozzarella cheese, are vegetarian friendly. The crust, however, was dull and bland. The Alive article touched on this, suggesting the crust may be undercooked to serve as many of them as possible to the worker bees in the area.

It seems like your best choices here may be the sandwiches (vegetarian options include a veggie wrap and a grilled cheese with tomato panini) and the veggie quesadilla. I'll have to check out the rest of the menu and report back on it later.

The sides were especially interesting, with a choice of pasta salad, chips or an apple. The prices are great--my combo was like $6. I'm still standing by my original judgement that El Arepazo is the king (or el rey) of inexpensive downtown eats. Based upon the menu, my description of Cafe Lola would be to call it San Francisco Oven with a cooler menu.

And if I looked at the pricing and the rest of the eateries in downtown Columbus not named Tip Top or Due Amici, I would guess Cafe Lola closes early and isn't open on Sunday (if they are open on the weekend at all). You can always call 614-754-8804 to find out for yourself.

Check out the pictures below, and stop in if you're in the area.

Lola's Cafe

10 March 2008

Ming Flower

After my shift in the burbs, I developed a hankering for Cuisine of India's buffet and/or vegetarian menu for lunch. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to me, Cuisine of India closes between 2 pm and 5:30 pm, and I finished working at 2:30 pm.

I decided to travel across the street to Ming Flower, which is a Chinese restaurant on Lazelle Road. It has a fairly large dining room with traditional American-Chinese restaurant decor.

The prices were very cheap and the service was brisk. I ordered the Buddhist Delight, which is a mixed vegetable stir fry. With a drink, my final bill was $7.

Unfortunately, the dish was fairly nondescript, with broccoli, (canned) mushrooms, onions, baby corn, water chestnuts and carrots in a characterless brown sauce. The price was fair, but there are a number of better options in the area that, while more expensive, will be worth every extra cent you spend. These places include Cuisine of India, Ha Long Bay, Noodles, Pei Wei and Molly Woo's, all within a two minute drive (some of them are reviewed on this veggie blog).

Check out the pictures, and if you're in the area, check out one of the other places I've listed before you stop at Ming Flower.

Ming Flower

03 March 2008

The Prince Fielder diet

The beefcake 1st baseman of the Milwaukee Brewers Prince Fielder dropped a pile of meat on the plates of unsuspecting media members at the end of last month: the 260-pound slugger is now a vegetarian.

Fielder's physique suggested that there was almost nothing that he wouldn't eat, but he started batting from the veggie side of the plate after reading a book his wife gave him that described the cruel methodologies employed to slaughter animals.

As a Cubs fan, I can't hope that the diet improves the Prince's already bloated statistics. I will, however, hope that the carnivorous Carlos Zambrano plunks you with a hard four-seamer before he takes you out to dinner at Green Zebra, Alice & Friends or the Blind Faith Cafe so there's no hard feelings. Enjoy the lifestyle while you simmer over your new contract.

Chi Thai

Nestled near Hamilton and Dublin Granville Roads is Chi Thai, a clumsily named but effectively executed Asian fusion spot. This is a great new discovery for me, and I'll definitely be back for a second round.

Chi Thai is named for the two cuisines it offers (Chinese and Thai). It's a new project from Joey Chang's, a high quality Asian establishment tucked in a strip mall similar to the location of Chi Thai but mirrored in Hilliard.

Chi Thai was recognized as one of the 10 best new restaurants in Columbus. It easily fits that bill, and Chi Thai could also be recognized as one of Columbus' finest Asian establishments alongside stalwarts like Lemongrass, Haiku, Q2 and Hunan Lion.

The decor is modern and brightly colored. The interior is almost unexpected when compared to the nondescript facade of the building. My service was attentive, with the server taking careful time to point out the vegetarian selections on the menu while taking the time to suggest special items that the chef could prepare for me that weren't listed on the menu.

I started with the vegetable dumplings, which were stuffed with spinach, lettuce and carrots with a soy-ginger sauce on the side. It was tasty. Other vegetarian items that I didn't try as appetizers included sesame noodles and tofu lettuce wraps (by special request--not on the menu).

The plating of the entree was fantastic. The spicy pot of gold was made of piles of deep fried tofu triangles in a spicy black bean sauce with green onions and a choice of steamed white or brown rice. The rich, mildly seasoned sauce was intensely flavorful, with smoky elements and a faint nuance of red pepper. There was at least eight ounces of tofu in the dish which was not breaded but fried until it began to take on a light golden color.

There are many other vegetarian dishes on the menu. Mala string beans, kung po tofu, vegetable delight, spicy eggplant and a Thai green chili tofu are a few of the many options that keep the herbivores smiling.

The prices also will keep me coming back. I spent less than $14 (minus tip) for an appetizer and main course. The appetizers are big enough to share, and entrees are available in lunch and dinner sizes.

Check out the pictures below.

Chi Thai

Chi Thai on Urbanspoon

Mad Mex redux

In the past, I have had nothing but positive experiences at Mad Mex in the South Campus gateway. On previous visits, I enjoyed the vast selection of vegetarian entrees and the selection of micro brews and big margaritas.

However, for future reference, I'll have to mention the total lack of service I received for lunch the other day. Nobody greeted me at the host station. Lunch took forever. The server was conspicuously absent. My compatriot got the wrong order for lunch. These were just a few of the many giant missteps in service made during the last meal I ate at Mad Mex.

I disagreed with most criticisms of Mad Mex from people in the area. Mad Mex is what it is. It isn't traditional Mexican fare; it's an American fusion spot with a Mexican undercurrent. However, I will advise anybody eating here to wait until dinner, when the place is better staffed. Maybe it was just an off night, but this performance was akin to a wasted Scott Stapp. They'd better clean up their act before they go the way of Creed.