31 August 2011

Columbus Food Truck and Cart Fest

Few culinary trends have exploded upon the dining scene over the last few years like food trucks. Despite the fact that mobile food vendors have been around for centuries longer than restaurants, only in the last few years has the trend evolved from cheap comfort food meant to nourish the working class to haute cuisine.

Columbus has been part of the food truck movement along with the rest of the country. On Aug. 26, a cadre of carts joined forces in the newly minted Columbus Commons to launch the Columbus Food Truck and Cart Fest.

Fans of some of Columbus' more popular mobile vendors found many of their favorites. Mikey's Late Night Slice, Rad Dog, Junior's Tacos, the Cheesy Truck and Mojo Tago were some of the bigger names in Columbus' food cart scene that appeared at the festival.

Many of Columbus' new carts and out-of-town operations also came, introducing some diners to the wide variety of fare that comes from kitchens on wheels.

One of the biggest names from out of town was Cleveland's Hodge Podge, a participant on the second season of the Food Network program The Great Food Truck Race. Hodge Podge proprietor Chris Hodgson's menu is meat-centric. Although there is a kimchi mac and cheese on the normal menu, the Columbus Food Truck and Cart menu lacked options for vegetarians.

I had never seen some of Columbus' new food trucks, and the fest brought them out in spades.

Earth's Crust Pizza/Krazy Monkey Juice Bar, a mainstay of the Global Gallery coffee house in Clintonville, debuted their new food truck. Earth's Crust has operated a cart at festivals around Central Ohio previously, but now they have a converted postal truck adorned with Rastafarian art and graffiti.

The pizza from Earth's Crust is excellent. The crust is prepared with Amish grain that the owner grinds into flour herself. The Dariya vegan cheese melts perfectly. The Spicy Jack pizza was made with pepperjack, roasted hot wax peppers, sweet corn and spicy marinara.

The Pickled Swine is a new Columbus food truck. Although their main dishes were a vegetarian wasteland, the most interesting-looking item on the menu, the gourmet popsicles in flavors like cucumber lime mint, Ohio sweet corn and basil, and black cherry goat cheese were tailor-made for a warm night like the evening of the fest.

The popsicles lacked intensity and sweetness, particularly the sweet corn and basil, which was a borderline savory exercise in confusion. It's a great idea for dessert, and hopefully further experimentation will allow for the flavor to be improved.

Kolache Republic operates at farmers' markets in Clintonville and Canal Winchester. They make kolache, a soft doughy Czech pastry with a variety of fillings. Kolache at Kolache Republic are the size of a doughnut, and come in flavors like sweet cheese (which was delightful) and raspberry.

Overall, the fest was fun. Many of the carts ran out of product, and lines also got long as the night progressed. Despite its shortcomings, the fest illustrated the popularity of mobile food in Columbus in addition to the fun food from kitchens on four wheels.

24 August 2011

Capitol Cafe by Milo's

Capitol Cafe is the restaurant inside the Ohio Statehouse. It is run by the folks from Franklinton's Milo's Deli.

Much like Milo's, Capitol Cafe specializes in sandwiches, salads and deli sides. Orders can be enjoyed inside the Statehouse as well as in the form of a take-out order.

The vegetarian sandwiches are a veggie panini and a cold tomato mozzarella pesto sandwich. Those who don't eat eggs should note that Capitol Cafe's salads are prepared with hard boiled eggs, which can be held on request.

The veggie panini is made with multicolored peppers, onions, mushrooms and cheese. The soft white bread showed nice press marks. This is a solid sandwich.

The salads are huge. The Greek salad was piled with Feta cheese and black olives. The giant bowls, while aesthetically pleasing, sat clumsily on the table.

There are televisions tuned to television news at the Capitol Cafe, befitting its political setting. There is a surprisingly large amount of seating in a space that looks small on initial examination.

Capitol Cafe by Milo's on Urbanspoon

17 August 2011

Short North Bagel Deli

Short North Bagel Deli is a food cart that whips up steamed bagel sandwiches in the Short North and other Columbus confines. Fans of Columbus' defunct Beekman's Bagels and the Athens mainstay Bagel Street Deli will find plenty to like at the similarly styled Short North Bagel Deli.

I wrote briefly about Short North Bagel Deli in my post about Hills Market's Foodie Fest. However, Jeremy Fox turns out enough vegetarian sandwiches at his food cart to make it worth an individual mention.

SNBD has a local ingredient connection as it features Block's Bagels. Sandwiches come with a choice of plain, wheat, sesame seed, poppy seed and everything bagels.

There are six vegetarian bagel sandwiches at SNBD in addition to the build-your-own option. Sandwiches can also be prepared on a sub roll. Buttered bagels and cream cheese bagels cost less than $2.

The Ronald Vegan (which isn't vegan) has provolone and colby cheese, cucumber, tomato, onion, mushroom, pepper and sprouts. It tastes great with a more flavorful bagel like the wheat or everything bagels.

The PETA Griffin is prepared with lettuce, tomato, cucumber and sprouts along with veggie cream cheese. The cream cheese adds a nice savory flavor to the warm veggies.

The names of the sandwiches are typically Columbus-themed or hilarious for some other reason. In addition to the Golden Bear, a veggie bagel sandwich named after Jack Nicklaus, other sandwiches are named after Doors, Jimi Hendrix and Grateful Dead songs, the Arnold Classic, Gallery Hop, Red, White & Boom, the Buckeyes and the Blue Jackets.

The Short North Bagel Truck updates their location on active Twitter and Facebook accounts. SNBD collaborates frequently with other food trucks like Mojo Tago and Leslie's Creperie.

Short North Bagel Deli on Urbanspoon

10 August 2011

Element Pizza

Element Pizza is the latest pizzeria to open in Columbus. Housed in the old Plugged Nickel location, Element Pizza and Bar specializes in gourmet pizza and sandwiches.

The menu at Element also features salads and starters. Element will prepare off-the-menu vegan and vegetarian pizzas upon request. There is limited seating in addition to a room configuration that makes carry-out a simple proposition.

The eggplant fries are served with a garlic aioli. The chips at my last visit seemed to have been fried in not-quite-hot-enough oil that left the eggplant greasy. The flavor was pleasant, and probably would shine if the thinly sliced vegetable was fried to a better consistency.

The goat cheese and arugula salad had a bright flavor that shined. It was a fair portion for the price.

The apple and onion pizza contrasted the sweet flavor of Granny Smith apples and sauteed onions with the savory element of mozzarella and parmesan cheese. The crust is soft with subtle roasted noted that make the pizza surprisingly filling.

The cremini mushroom pizza was tasty, although the garlic was applied with too free of a hand. The tomato sauce had a tangy flavor that rescued the pie from oblivion.

The roasted red pepper sandwich was fantastic. It combined mushrooms and red peppers in a crustless Italian bread panini with a coarsely ground hot mustard. It's a great sandwich for $6.

Service is quick at Element Pizza. It will be interesting to see how a pizza shop of this caliber fares in the middle ground between the the center of Downtown and the Arena District.

Element Pizza Bar on Urbanspoon

T Murray's Bar and Kitchen

T. Murray's is a stylized gastropub in the Brewery District. While the atmosphere and service are pleasant, the lack of vegetarian dining options on the menus makes T Murray's a tough sell for meatless diners.

The restaurant is located north of the High Beck Tavern, and former Lindey's bartender Tony Murray is one of the people running the restaurant that bares his moniker. Behind the bar, Murray offers classic cocktails and a standard selection of draught beer.

There is typically one vegetarian sandwich on the lunch menu. The roasted eggplant and mozzarella sandwich was topped with arugula and a mayo, served with a side of peppery shoestring fries and cost $7. This is a great lunchtime value for courthouse employees.

There is a very limited selection of meatless items on the dinner menu. The kitchen will prepare vegetarian and vegan entrees upon request.

T Murray's Kitchen and Bar on Urbanspoon

03 August 2011

Foodie Fest at the Hills Market

Foodie Fest at the Hills Market was a fun event at the North Side market featuring activities for children and a confederacy of food carts. While the bands and the spelling bee were geared towards small children, restaurants on wheels are a pitch right down the middle for a fully grown child like myself.

Food carts and restaurants in attendance included Junior's Tacos, Local Munch Box, Short North Bagel Deli, Leslie's Creperie, the Jeni's Truck, Cheesy Truck and Pattycake Bakery. Participants bought tickets which were traded for food at stations set up in the parking lot of the Hills Market.

This event was a great opportunity to sample a variety of food carts in one location. While I consider myself a connoisseur of food carts, this was a great chance for me to sample some new places that I have yet to stumble upon in a street setting.

Junior's Tacos is typically located in Victorian Village. They offer Mexican standards, which include vegetarian burritos, tacos and quesadillas. All three include griddled onions, mushrooms, peppers alongside cold lettuce and radishes with chunks of cilantro. There is a salsa verde and a red sauce that add flavor to any of the above Mexican classics.

The Local Munch Box is a new operation with delightful design. Munch Box specializes in sandwiches, flatbread pizzas and salads. This truck can often be found in the Columbus Commons during the week. The flatbread pizza had an Asiago mousse spread atop it. It held mushrooms, summer squash, zucchini, cherry tomatoes and arugula.

Short North Bagel Deli is a new cart that sets up all over the city, including the Short North and Downtown. They steam Block's Bagels and make a variety of cool sandwiches with clever names.

Leslie's Creperie is a crepe cart that actually sets up on the Hills Market's patio on select days during the warm season. Leslie's prepares sweet and savory crepes on the griddle. The spinach and Feta crepe had earthy flavor that was elevated by the acidity of the cheese.

I've previously written about Jeni's, the Cheesy Truck and Pattycake Bakery. All three are excellent operations worth tracking down. Cheesy Truck makes grilled cheese out of local ingredients. Pattycake is a vegan bakery and Jeni's is Columbus' most famous ice cream auteur. Jeni's blackberry sweet corn ice cream is a delightful taste of summer. Pattycake's peanut butter chocolate moon pie is a taste of country exuberance prepared in a completely vegan manner. Cheesy Truck makes great grilled cheese with all sorts of accompaniments, like the house made tater tots.

Foodie Fest was a great event for all ages. Although the weather was sweltering, the area's culinary artisans stepped up to the plate and delivered a memorable experience in the shadow of one of the city's best markets.

Junior's Tacos on Urbanspoon
Leslie's Creperie on Urbanspoon
The Cheesy Truck on Urbanspoon