29 October 2010

Tony's Italian Ristorante

Tony's is a classic Italian restaurant in the Brewery District. Since 1982, the place has been one of Columbus' most popular institutions serving food from the boot.

Like most Italian eateries, Tony's features a variety of choices for vegetarian diners. Most dishes are made with cheese, thereby limiting vegan dining options. Prices are reasonably inexpensive.

Vegetarian appetizers include bruschetta, a gorgonzola cheese- and olive-topped bread, garlic bread, marinated artichoke hearts, orange salad, herb mushrooms, and Caprese salad. For main courses, the choices are capellini pomodoro, spinach and cheese cannelloni, a veggie-heavy fettuccine Alfredo and eggplant parmesan.

Meals are served with freshly baked bread and herbed butter. The house salad is prepared with a few interesting ingredients, including chickpeas, that give the salad a bit of flair. The dressing, however, was mostly uninspired.

The bruschetta is piled high with tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and basil. The basil soaks deep into the toasted bread, giving the bruschetta deep green streaks.

The eggplant parmesan is excellent. Thin eggplant coins are breaded and fried, then served in marinara sauce and provolone. The crispy breading adds a great texture to the soft, savory vegetable, and the bright tomato sauce lends acidity to the dish.

Tony's has a full bar with a decent wine and beer list. While there are fairly limited by-the-glass wine options, the full wine list offers some great bottles that should pair nicely with dinner.

The decor in Tony's is a classic, white tablecloth throwback, befitting the menu. Service for my visit was even, if not a touch impersonal.

Tony's Italian Ristorante

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23 October 2010

Columbus Vegan Week

October 24-31 is Columbus Vegan Week (vegan weeks are both free of animal products and eight days long). Participating restaurants include Phat Wraps, Columbus Brewing Company, Knead and the Betty's family of restaurants, including Betty's, Tip Top, Surly Girl and Dirty Franks. Mercy for Animals is promoting the event, which should be a fun and delicious way to introduce people to great places in Columbus that offer vegan food.

-- Columbus Vegan Week information --

Sweet Pot Jamaican Cuisine

Sweet Pot is a Jamaican eatery tucked between the residential and industrial sections of Vassor Village. While the neighborhood looks more than a little rough around the edges, Sweet Pot provides a welcome (and meatless) respite from the surroundings.

Sweet Pot Jamaican Cuisine sits in a ramshackle hut at the corner of Frebis and Champion. There are a number of charcoal grills on the property, and the staff also cooks on a griddle and stove inside the store.

While the menu isn't completely vegetarian, it does offer a tofu platter and a mixed vegetable platter. Both are served with a heaping helping of red beans and rice. The dishes are prepared in small, medium and large sizes. Prices are reasonable with everything on the menu priced less than $10.

The vegetable platter was made with cabbage, corn, beans, onions, carrots and peppers. Each veggie serves a purpose, with cabbage providing a delightful crunch, carrots adding sweetness, peppers lending an herbal undertone, and corn and beans contrasting the texture of the rest of the dish. The beans and rice are mildly seasoned, and they finish with a subtle hint of coconut.

The staff at Sweet Pot is friendly and easily able to address vegetarian dining concerns. Despite the neighborhood, Sweet Pot is definitely worth exploring if you're in the area.

Sweet Pot

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19 October 2010

Jason's Deli

Jason's is a fast-casual deli chain that started in Texas. There are currently two locations in Central Ohio in Dublin and Grandview. I visited the Grandview Yard store.

Jason's Deli specializes in New Orleans favorites like the po' boy and the muffaletta, although it also makes wraps, paninis and other sandwich types. There is a huge salad bar, and the kitchen prepares a wide variety of soups, salads and pasta dishes. The menu has extensive vegetarian options, and Jason's Deli offers a complete gluten-free menu as well.

The Grandview location is large, with extensive indoor and outdoor seating. Like Noodles & Company and Pei Wei, orders are placed at the counter and served at a table with a number clipped to it.

As an avid devotee of Gulf Coast cuisine, my order was decided before I walked in the door: the veggie muffaletta

The veggaletta is made on thick, crusty sesame seed-encrusted bread. Thick slices of portobello mushrooms, tomatoes, spinach, red and yellow peppers and red onions are piled on the melted provolone and olive salad-laden bread. The mushrooms were cooked with a hint of red wine, and had great flavor. The sandwich was on the dry side, and the olive salad could have been served in a larger proportion to offset the moisture lost to the toasted bread. Another solid option might be to add guacamole to the sandwich, although that would get you shot in New Orleans.

The sandwich had good ingredients and a great appearance. It's composition needs to be tinkered with in order to be more successful.

The vegetarian French onion soup was rich and savory. Beef broth is replaced with a mushroom broth, and the soup crock is crowned with melted Swiss cheese. The soup is delightful, and it's a great example of how judicious substitution of ingredients when making vegetarian versions of non-vegetarian dishes can create fantastic results.

Other vegetarian items on the menu include three soups, the spinach veggie wrap, a portobello wrap, a build-your-own sandwich, a mushroom pasta dish and assorted sides like chips and salsa, steamed veggies and a hummus platter. A large percentage of salad bar items are labeled organic.

Prices at Jason's seem slightly high, although there is plenty of vegetarian variety on the menu. Overall, it's a safe bet for vegetarians and health-conscious diners, but it doesn't jump off the page.

Jason's Deli

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18 October 2010

Luck Brothers Coffee House

Luck Brothers is an independent coffee roaster in Grandview. While the atmosphere is Spartan, the complexity of the coffee more than offsets the minimalistic interior.

The staff at Luck Brothers does a tremendous job of roasting the beans to get subtle layers of flavor in every drop. They are helpful in selecting coffees based upon a drinker's preferences.

I sampled a full city roast Ethiopian harrar coffee. It has an intoxicating aroma of chocolate, and the flavor profile is mildly tannic with hints of wine and purple fruit.

The most interesting coffee for sale at Luck Brothers this week is the Hacienda la Esmeralda Special Reserve. This is a single grower, single estate coffee from Panama that is sold at auction. I sampled this coffee for the first time in Chicago three years ago. It is an amazing cup of Joe. While the 10-ounce bags were sold out, there was still enough coffee left to offer $12 cups of coffee this past Saturday.

Food at Luck Brothers is fairly limited. There is an assortment of pastries, including Der Dutchman doughnuts. They also stock Snowville Creamery milk for discerning palates to temper their coffee.

Luck Brothers

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12 October 2010

Coyote Jane's menu sneak peak

The fine folks at Banana Bean are opening a Southwestern restaurant in Merion Village called Coyote Jane's. The scheduled opening date is October 19 (although that's not the case--check the Banana Bean twitter feed for updates). Here's a sneak peak at the menu.

Coyote Jane's Menu

Barley's Smokehouse

For years, I have avoided Barley's Smokehouse, instead frequenting the Brewing Company location based upon the scenario created in my head in which a barbecue joint would be biased against vegetarians. In certain instances, though, it's safest to expect the unexpected (or at least expect that my prejudiced decision making would again be proven flawed).

Barley's flagship operation in the Short North has always been successful because the menu features comfort food classics accompanied by craft brews with a ton of character. The Smokehouse keeps the same formula, but offers more pit-cooked carnivore fare. Despite the ribs and brisket focus, Barley's Smokehouse does have a vegetarian burger, a veggie wrap, a quesadilla and a couple of side dishes including French fries and onion straws for vegetarian diners.

The veggie burger at both Barley's locations is excellent. It's a house-made black bean, mushroom, and rice patty with a smoky, savory character that lingers. The patty crumbles easily, and it's somewhat delicate structure is the biggest fault in an otherwise excellent veggie burger. Toppings include cheddar, pepper jack and blue cheeses, and mushrooms.

The side of pickles is very good. Two big, crispy pickle chips come with the sandwiches. The fries are bland and somewhat one-dimensional.

The mixed veggie quesadilla is also nice. Grilled zucchini, squash, peppers and onions are stuffed into a flour tortilla and served with a mild salsa and sour cream. The portion is large enough to make the dish a virtual entree even though it is billed as an appetizer.

The Smokehouse restaurant has a sports bar setup. When combined with the brewed brewpub offerings, it's an accommodating spot for meatless diners.

Barley's Smokehouse

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05 October 2010


Formaggio is a Steubenville-style pizza shop near the South Campus Gateway. It is a take-out/delivery pizza shop with reasonable prices, befitting its collegiate location.

The first time I heard the nomenclature Steubenville-style pizza, I concocted a prejudice in my head that disallowed Steubenville its rightful place in pizza lore. While there are numerous sub-types of tomato pies that dot the American landscape claiming to be different from everybody else, most pizzas fit into neat little boxes. Steubenville pizza, however, is unique in that it is a medium-thick crust that is topped with cheese after it is baked.

Despite my prejudices, I'll have to say that Steubenville-style pizza is unlike other pizzas. Its closest relative might be the New England bakery pizza, a baked thin crust pizza topped with tomato sauce, sprinkled with parmesan cheese and served cold (it is available at Yellow Brick Pizza in Columbus, or any Italian restaurant in Rhode Island). Steubenville-style pizza is served hot, and the heat of the crust and sauce slowly melts the grated provolone cheese. Diners unwilling to experiment with the Steubenville style (called "fresh") can order their pizza "melted." Of course, I thought, "When in Rome..."

Pizzas come in regular and half sheet sizes. There are a few meatless specialty pizzas, including a white pizza and a veggie pizza.

The provolone cheese gives the pizza a sharper flavor. The crust is soft with a crisp exterior. The toppings, overall, were a little cheap and conservatively applied. Overall, the weakest part of the pizza was the finely chopped peppers and the canned mushrooms.

There is a coupon on the website that adds a free order of breadsticks to a $10 order. A generous portion of breadsticks is dusted with sesame seeds and served with a side of marinara sauce. Formaggio also offers cheese pizza slices fresh and melted for $1 for penny pinchers.

The prices at Formaggio, combined with the unique Steubenville pizza, make Formaggio worth sampling. If nothing else, you can tell your coworkers that you ate Steubenville-style pizza for lunch, and look at them in an incensed manner when they tell you that they've never heard of it before.

Formaggio Pizza

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04 October 2010


Veggielicious is a new vegetarian food cart typically located amidst the activity on the Ohio State campus. Veggielicious offers breakfast and lunch, and they are constantly tweaking the menu at this point to get the offerings to the point where they please the widest variety of its clientele.

I was alerted to Veggielicious by the fine folks over at StreetEatsColumbus. While Veggielicious utilizes eggs and dairy ingredients, they are more than happy to prepare vegan items to the diner's specifications.

The menu at Veggielicious focuses on grilled wraps, quesadillas and bowls. Diners select ingredients that include eggs, veggie sausage, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, broccoli, jalepeƱos, salsa, sour cream and hot sauce. All items come in large and small sizes. Nothing costs more than $5.

The fresh ingredients shine brightly in the wrap. There is a nice fennel note in the veggie sausage, and the wrap has flavors that can be describes as Latin, West Coast or Southern with equal accuracy. Portion sizes are generous yet not overwhelming.

Veggielicious has a limited selection of inexpensive beverages. While the cart is typically located on campus, it moves around regularly. Check the Facebook page for Veggielicious' latest location.


Veggielicious on Urbanspoon

01 October 2010

Akai Hana

Akai Hana is a vegan-friendly Japanese restaurant in the Kenny Centre shopping center, located in the overlapping portions of Columbus and Upper Arlington. Sushi is the main attraction, but there are plenty of other soups, appetizers and entrees available for vegetarians.

The restaurant is tucked back into an unassuming plaza with an international flavor. There is an Asian market, an Indian restaurant, a Thai restaurant, a Middle Eastern bakery and a Japanese bakery within the plaza. Akai Hana is accessible from either of the two parking lots.

Vegetarian starters include edamame, an Asian cabbage salad, miso soup and tofu preparations including agedashi. The miso soup is traditionally understated, and the fresh scallions add a delightful crunch to the satisfying, salty soy broth (Special note: request a vegetarian miso soup; the normal version contains bonito flakes).

The agedashi tofu consists of large tempura-battered tofu cubes served in a seaweed/soy sauce base. The crispy skin and soft, almost molten tofu soak up the savory sauce upon which the cubes rest.

There are a number of different vegetable sushi rolls at Akai Hana. I sampled the garden roll, cucumber roll and avocado roll. The cucumber roll had a nice crunch. The avocado roll was rich and soft. The garden roll is a temaki roll filled with cucumber, carrot, lettuce and radish. It was aesthetically and gustatorily pleasant. The plating of the sushi rolls was very nice.

Lunch specials include miso soup and two rolls for $9 or three rolls for $12.50. Dinner prices are somewhat expensive compared to other sushi joints.

The decor is classic with modern accents. Service is prompt and efficient.

Akai Hana

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