29 December 2009

Bel Lago

Bel Lago is a tastefully-appointed, Italian-inspired eatery that has beautiful views of the Hoover Reservoir. Although the outdoor seating is far less enjoyable in the winter, come summertime, it will be a beautiful place to enjoy a cocktail while admiring the sailboats.

Bel Lago is located in the same location as the now departed Hoover Grill. The decor is far better at Bel Lago. They have replaced the cold, metallic interior of Hoover Grill with a combination of tan and brown accents. The fireplace makes the dining room warm and inviting.

The menu at Bel Lago features Italian cuisine, sandwiches, salads and assorted Mediterranean favorites. My biggest complaint is that with a menu this expansive, it should have been possible to offer a vegetarian sandwich and another vegetarian entree. Although the food is excellent, variety is the spice of life, and it feels like the vegetarian choices on the menu might have been added as an afterthought.

The staff is very helpful. Our server took the time to explain what items on the menu were vegetarian-friendly.

Bel Lago also has a nice selection of wine, cocktails and draft beer. I was impressed by the Bell's Best Brown and Goose Island Matilda beers available on draft.

I started with a twin hummus plate. Regular and spicy red pepper hummus are served on a platter with pita triangles, green, red and yellow peppers, broccoli, carrots and celery as dipping accoutrements. While the plain hummus was good, the spicy hummus was fantastic. I almost wanted to send my plain hummus back and get a full two servings of the spicy stuff. The veggies and pitas provided a variety of flavors with which to scoop both dips up.

My main course was linguine in a pesto cream sauce. Bel Lago makes all their pasta by hand, and the results turn out with great texture and flavor. The pesto sauce was rich but mildly flavored, with subtle hints of fresh basil and garlic alongside the delightful crunch of pine nuts. Fans of local eating will also be impressed that the basil was grown down the street by Westerville North students in their hydroponics class.

Other vegetarian options on the menu include pizzas. There is a Mediterranean pizza as well as a margherita pizza. There are also three vegetarian salads as well as a grilled vegetable plate.

The interior is not the only thing that Bel Lago has improved upon from Hoover Grill. The parking lot at the Hoover Grill/Bel Lago spot is too small for the amount of people that can be seated in the restaurant, and Westerville is not the most walkable community. Bel Lago has fixed the parking shortage by offering valet service on busy nights.

Despite shortchanging vegetarians on their menu options, Bel Lago makes quality fare that can be enjoyed with beautiful views of the landscape. If you aren't opposed to a limited number of vegetarian options, Bel Lago prepares quality food that, while somewhat expensive, pays close attention to presentation and preparation.

Bel Lago

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25 December 2009

Pattycake Bakery

It seems impossible for a Columbus vegetarian blog that has been in operation for three years not to have reviewed Clintonville's Pattycake Vegan Bakery. Christmas gave me an opportunity to make up for this egregious wrongdoing.

Pattycake's wares are found in a number of restaurants throughout the city. Proprietor Jennie Scheinbach is one of the most famous names connected to vegan dining in the Capital City, and she does a great job getting the word out about her delicious baked goods.

Pattycake was also open on Christmas (and will still be open until 6 pm Christmas night). They featured cookies, cupcakes, candies, pies and the holiday favorite, sticky buns.

The baked goods at Pattycake are so delicious so that ovo-, lacto- and not-even-close-to-vegetarians will not miss the animal products in their sweets. Pattycake also makes a number of low sugar, no sugar and gluten-free baked goods for diabetics and those with celiac disease.

Some items in the cases that looked particularly delicious include chocolate chip cookies, snickerdoodles, holiday sugar cookies, carrot cupcakes, whoopie pies, brownies and granola.

The sticky buns were delightful. Served piping hot from the oven, the soft rolls melt in your mouth with a spicy cinnamon kick. The icing adds another layer of flavor to the enormous pastry.

Baked goods can be picked up on location, on the Web, and at restaurants like Rad Dog, Cup O' Joe and many of the local farmer's markets. Those looking for guilt-free sweets should definitely head to Clintonville and reap the bounty from Pattycake.

Pattycake Vegan Bakery

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24 December 2009

Yellow Brick Pizza

Columbus has seen a swarm of new pizza shops open in the last month or so. First Bono Pizza in Grandview opened (or re-opened, depending on your take); then, Clever Crow opened in the kitchen at Circus; now Downtown is getting into the act with Yellow Brick Pizza, an East Coast-style pizzeria that specializes in artisanal pies and craft brews.

Located on Oak Street east of Parsons, Yellow Brick Pizza proprietor Orin Hemminger is currently testing the waters with a low-key soft opening. There is seating for about 40 people in the dining room, as well as about 10 or 15 seats at the bar.

Yellow Brick makes pizza in small, medium and large sizes. You can build your own pie or select a few of the specialty pizzas. Yellow Brick also offers cheese pizza by the slice for $2.

There are a wide variety of meatless pizza options at Yellow Brick (sorry vegans--you're out of luck on this one!). The crust is soft and thin, akin to a New York pizza without the necessity of folding your slices.

Vegetarian pies include the Rhode Island Red (a crispy crust slathered in red sauce and olive oil sprinkled lightly with parmesan), the Big O (a red sauce pizza topped with feta, artichoke hearts, spinach, tomato, garlic and red onions in a swirl of pesto), the Mad Greek (a traditional Greek pizza), the Oak Street (alfredo sauce with mushrooms, garlic, onion and potato), Meggie's Veggie (mushrooms, artichoke hearts, green peppers, onions and tomatoes), and the Green Man (pesto sauce with spinach, green peppers, artichokes and green olives).

I sampled the Green Man, which is named after a character from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia who used to be a high school mascot that gets used by Charlie while tripping on acid at a Philadelphia Eagles try out. As seen in the picture above, the Green Man is an explosion of secondary color with both green sauce and toppings.

The crust is soft, buttery and delicious. The cheese is well-portioned. The toppings are fresh and tasty, although the spinach somewhat overwhelmed the delicate nature of the pesto. Although the flavors weren't completely balanced, the pizza was still very good.

There are also a few meatless appetizers. These include French fries, cinnamon sticks and mushroom pizza sticks.

In addition to the delicious, eats, Yellow Brick also dishes up a decent selection of craft beers. Happy hour specials include half-off drafts and $1 PBR cans from 4 to 8 pm. Taps include Abita Purple Haze, Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA, Founder's Porter, La Chouffe, Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold, and Stone Pale Ale. There is also a large list of beer in bottles.

With gourmet pizza popping up all over the city, it was about time that Downtown was added to the revolution. If you enjoy pizza, beer and/or the continued redevelopment of the Near East side, Yellow Brick Pizza should be right up your alley.

Yellow Brick Pizza

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22 December 2009

Mellow Mushroom sandwiches

Mellow Mushroom is a Southern pizza chain that goes above and beyond the call of duty for the vegetarian-inclined diner.

Previously, I have reviewed the gourmet pizzas at the Polaris location. I first tried Mellow Mushroom in Hilton Head, South Carolina while on vacation.

Beyond the pizza pies, Mellow Mushroom also offers a variety of sandwiches that hit the mark for those who describe themselves as vegetarian and/or vegan.

Mellow Mushroom makes five different vegetarian sandwiches. Three sandwiches are hot and two are cold. Although all are made with animal products, the menu will leave the cheese out to delight the vegan crowd.

I tried the tempeh hoagie. Tempeh is a fermented soy protein that undergoes less processing than its more famous cousin tofu. Tempeh has a more rustic flavor than tofu, and it is also firm and granular as opposed to soft and solid like tofu.

The tempeh sandwich comes on a choice of French, wheat or pita bread. The tempeh is marinated and grilled, then served with pesto mayo, feta cheese, grilled onions, mushrooms, peppers and sprouts. The pesto and veggies add a bright contrast to the full-flavored tempeh base.

Other vegetarian sandwich options include tofu, portobello, tomato and mozzarella, and avocado. As discussed in the previous review, there are scores of vegetarian and vegan salads, appetizers, calzones and pizzas on the menu as well.

Mellow Mushroom is a cool option in the Polaris area for satisfying both health nuts and those who prefer their fat content pumped into overdrive. When paired with its extensive menu of craft beer, everybody leaves fat and happy.

Mellow Mushroom Sandwich

16 December 2009

Tuesday Tastings with Thirsty Dog

Before I get started here, I'll have to lay my biases on the table: when I first started college education, had to find a way to pay for beer.

Obviously, I needed to be educated, pay for books and gain insight from social interactions while in school. These were very important things as well. But in college, ultimately the most important thing was to figure out an effective method to pay for beer.

I killed two birds with one stone by getting a job at the original Thirsty Dog Brew Pub.

Fast forward many years into the future (namely last night) at Tuesday Tastings at Hal & Al's. The brew pubs have closed, but the operation has morphed into a regional microbrewery available in 11 states.

The initial Tuesday Tasting event saw Thirst Dog owner John Najeway bring a litter of samples to the tasting at Hal & Al's, my favorite neighborhood bar. I also worked with Mr. Najeway at the original (now defunct) Canton location (and now my preexisting biases have been laid bare for all to see).

The event cost $5. For a bill with Lincoln on the front, you get a pint of the 12 Dogs of Christmas, a Thirsty Dog pint glass, and samples of six different brews.

The 12 Dogs of Christmas is available on draft at Hal & Al's. The beer is a spiced winter brew that is redolent of cloves, cinnamon, ginger and honey, balanced by a medium dark maltiness. It's in the same family as the Great Lakes Christmas Ale, although the flavor is different enough to make both worth trying.

The Labrador Lager is a golden lager with clean malt character and a faintly aggressive hop presence. It is a continental pilsner that is ready-made for drinkers who prefer Bud and Miller to Samuel Adams and Samuel Smith.

The Raspberry Ale is a fruit bomb. The blonde color hides a bounty of berry fruit that coats the palate in a sticky sweet melange of malt and berries. This is not my favorite style of beer, but the Raspberry Ale would be appreciated by those who prefer sweetness to hoppiness in their craft brew.

The Irish Setter Red is a ruby brew with a medium body, aromas of caramel and barley, and a great finish. It is a beer naturally made for celebrating St. Patrick's Day (or the other 364 days, for that matter).

The Stud Service Stout is the Thirsty Dog's take on Guinness. Although it isn't nitrogenated, the beer has the opaque black color, roasted malt notes and low alcohol of the Irish favorite. It is a fantastic stout.

The Old Leghumper is a more robust porter. It has a brown color, and sweet aromas of chocolate, coffee and smoke jump out of the glass.

Cerberus is a Belgian triple-style ale named after the mythological canine guardian of Hades. Like the gatekeeper to the underworld, Cerberus is a brute with 10 percent alcohol by volume. Cerberus seemed to possess a greater clarity than a traditional Belgian triple, although I was assured that the beer was not fined or filtered. The yeast esters are pronounced on the flavor and aroma profiles. The beer is very well made.

Of course I have some biases that make the Thirsty Dog and Hal & Al's hold a special place in my heart. Thirsty Dog started my long romance with craft beer, and Hal & Al's sells me craft beer and vegan hot dogs within a three minute walk from my house. Despite my prejudices, however, both Thirsty Dog and the Tuesday Tastings are worth checking out.

Next week's tasting is not yet defined, but two weeks from today, there is a Bell's tasting. I will definitely be there with bells on!

09 December 2009

Mustard Seed Market & Cafe

The Mustard Seed Market & Cafe uses the freshest ingredients to create wholesome food that is as healthy as it is delicious.

The Cafe upstairs from the Montrose market is one of the Akron area's oldest vegetarian eateries. The benefit of visiting either location is that foodies can stroll through the market before, during and after eating at the cafe, giving them an opportunity to peruse the aisles of local produce and prepared foods.

I lived and worked in the Akron area for many years, and I used to eat at Mustard Seed regularly. Even though Akron has more vegetarian options since VegiTerranean and Aladdin's have opened up, Mustard Seed is still a great option for those looking to eat a fresh and delicious meatless meal.

The menu at Mustard Seed Cafe features salads, sandwiches, pasta, sushi and Mexican food for vegetarian, vegan, macrobiotic, and any other type of adjectival diner. Also, Mustard Seed labels the vegetarian and vegan items on the menu, which always wins a pile of bonus points from me. The chefs will also work with diners to accommodate any special dietary restriction.

Mustard Seed Cafe has a juice bar, which freshly squeezes a wide assortment of fruit and vegetable juices. I sampled a banana, papaya and coconut drink that tasted bright and delicious.

The edamame was prepared improperly. The soybeans were originally frozen, and some of them were served cold. Although many of them were correctly heated, about a third of them were not correctly cooked. This was the sole mistake of the meal.

My main course (portobello and tomato focaccia sandwich), on the other hand, was fantastic. Two mushroom caps were grilled and placed on fresh-baked focaccia triangles with tomato, Bermuda onions, lettuce, melted provolone and walnuts in garlic mayo and Dijon mustard. The smoky mushroom was perfectly supported by fresh veggies and crunchy walnuts to create a complex taste and texture experience.

Other vegetarian and vegan items on the menu include a veggie burger, tofu and veggie wrap, avocado club wrap, tofu lo mein, vegetarian bean enchilada, tofu and cashew stir fry, a Middle Eastern platter, nachos, pita pizza, broccoli alfredo, vegetable quesadilla, stuffed avocado, mushroom saute, artichoke and spinach dip, pasta primavera or alfredo, tempeh reubens, tofu Napoleon, and various salads. All dishes made with cheese can be prepared with soy cheese.

I have not visited both locations of the Mustard Seed. I cannot address the positive and negative characteristics of each location as I have only visited the one in Montrose.

Mustard Seed Cafe is an Akron veggie standby that is more than worth your time if you're in the area. I live in Columbus, so I only make it by a few times a year. But I enjoy it greatly every time I stop by.

Mustard Seed Cafe

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07 December 2009

New (for me) at the North Market

I haven't been to the North Market in about a month. Since I've been gone, there are a number of new options that have popped up at the gourmet playground of the Capital city.

Unfortunately, I showed up on the day (Monday) when half of the vendors are closed. Boo! Oh well. At least I can still walk around, take some pictures and write about what I'm going to eat at the North Market on my next visit.

As a proud Pole, I was super-excited when I saw that the newest place opening in the North Market is Hania's Olde World Cuisine. Although the menu (like the cuisine of Poland) is meat-centric, they do make potato pierogi. If you'd like to try to impress the staff with your Polish, you can try winning them over with the phrase, "Czy jest karta wegetariaƄska?" (Do you have a vegetarian menu?). If not, vegetarian diners will be limited to pierogi.

Although it isn't brand new, Taste of Belgium is another outpost I've yet to try. I checked the menu out, and in addition to Liege waffles, Taste of Belgium also makes a vegetarian crepe. It is made with red peppers, spinach, and goat cheese. I'll definitely have to sample something from the city's only Belgian eatery next time.

Since I couldn't try any of the new places, I was stuck with Sarefino's Pizza and Jeni's ice cream. Sarefino's makes tasty New York style pizza that I failed to photograph. Jeni's makes possibly the best ice cream on the planet. I tried one of the new seasonal flavors at Jeni's, the white chocolate evergreen with red currant garland. The evergreen base provides a hint of menthol and eucalyptus, the white chocolate flecks add a buttery undercurrent, and the currant swirls wrap the package up in a subtly sweet bow.

The ice cream was a delightful way to wrap up my failed attempt to try the places at North Market where I haven't eaten yet. At least I left with a smile on my face.

New at the North Market

01 December 2009

China Dynasty

China Dynasty is a Columbus institution that has been serving Chinese food since 1990 (1987 even, for the Upper Arlington location, which I did not visit). You only need to watch local broadcast TV at or around midnight to see a China Dynasty commercial, after which you will inevitably get the China Dynasty theme song stuck in your head ("China Dynasty...the home of the Happy Buddha,"...damn it, I'm going to be singing that song for the next week now!).

China Dynasty prepares inexpensive food that is better than its price range would indicate. It's hardly the top tier of Asian food available in the Capital City. However, the food is good quality considering its price point. There are a number of vegetarian entrees on the menu.

I started with a vegetarian spring roll. It is a Chinese-style spring roll, deep fried and filled with Napa cabbage, bamboo and mushrooms. It is somewhat bland, but the flavor is kicked up a notch by Chinese hot mustard.

The spicy bean curd is essentially a version of the classic ma po tofu (vegetarian note: ma po tofu is often made with shredded pork. At China Dynasty, it is recommended that you ask for the spicy bean curd without pork). Piles of tofu are pan fried in a spicy brown sauce with green onions and red peppers. China Dynasty does a solid job with a Szechuan standard.

China Dynasty has a full bar. The decor in the large restaurant is tasteful. The aim of the staff is to get a quick turnover at most tables.

China Dynasty makes solid if unspectacular food. Since it has a decent amount of vegetarian options that can be prepared quickly for a low price, China Dynasty is a good quality, inexpensive option for lunch. While you could definitely do better than China Dynasty, you could also do far worse.

China Dynasty

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