13 December 2012

Local Cantina

Local Cantina operates on the Grandview strip, preparing stylized interpretations of taco truck fare paired with beer, margaritas and other cocktails. The concept is reminiscent of Big Star in Chicago - a kitschy dive bar replete with inexpensive Mexican dishes.

The decor echoes this ethos. The walls are adorned with Mexican knick knacks and mustache artwork. 

Bar patrons and tables are sated by the endless self-serve well of chips and salsa on the floor.   While bottomless tortilla chips and roasted tomatillo salsa are tempting, my inner mysophobe thinks that this could become a breeding ground for germs during flu season. Consider this a warning for hypochondriacs.

The margaritas are made in a variety of formulations. Most are very good, but the drinks with agave nectar are overly sweet and lack finesse. The beer selection is good enough to keep craft enthusiasts as well as the Miller/Bud crowd happy.

The other appetizer dips are excellent. The guacamole has a great flavor with layers of lime, garlic and cilantro. The queso looks bland, but actually has a spicy base that lingers perfectly. The bottomless chips come in handy with these appetizers.

There are two vegetarian tacos on the menu at Local Cantina. The refried beans are vegetarian, and they are the base of a soft taco that also has cheese and the typical veggies. The rajas taco is a Central Mexican classic made with roasted poblano peppers, onions, cream and spices. The tacos pick up a richness that supports the smoky peppers. 

Dessert was a deep-fried chocolate chip cookie that failed on every level. The texture was tough to the point of being inedible. 

Service was uneven on multiple visits. Orders were delivered at inexact intervals, making it seem as if courses should be ordered in steps rather than all at once. Servers were not knowledgeable about vegetarian dining options, but also did not hesitate to ask the kitchen when requested.

Local Cantina on Urbanspoon

05 December 2012


Ella has been one of the most talked-about new restaurants in central Ohio since it opened early this year. The kitchen focuses on local, sustainable ingredients, and the restaurant brings a high-end, modern dining option that was previously missing in New Albany.

While the menu is somewhat ambitious, service and execution didn't match the lofty expectations. Local sourcing is admirable, but it couldn't save most vegetarian dishes sampled. 

The kitchen does make excellent effort in cooking for dietary restrictions. Wine pairings are fun. The bar has specials on happy-hour drinks including tasty cocktails made with local spirits. 

The menu changes with the season. These courses were sampled in the past two months.

The fried green tomatoes were piled with roasted corn, red peppers and remoulade. The batter was made with corn meal, the texture was mealy and the flavor of corn was more prominent than tomato. The remoulade was bland and brought nothing to the dish. This Southern staple disappointed.

The carrot ginger soup had delightful layers of root vegetable flavor with a spicy punch. The major flaw was that the soup had a bit of a baby food texture.

The risotto, however, had a perfect texture. Unfortunately, its balance was thrown off by an overly reduced balsamic vinegar. The butternut squash ravioli looks much better.

Desserts are sometimes a little off-the-wall. Charlotte and Olivia's ice cream, made in New Albany, is available.

Service was unevenly paced. The staff answered vegetarian dining concerns capably, but then dallied taking orders. 

In an effort to bring in parents, ella offers a kid's menu for $6. 

Ella - eat local. love art. on Urbanspoon

24 November 2012

The Catbird Seat

If you have only one meal in Nashville, The Catbird Seat should probably be it. Chefs Josh Habinger and Erik Anderson have worked at practically every heralded restaurant around the globe. Habinger spent time working under Heston Blumenthal at The Fat Duck, Tom Colicchio at Craft New York City and Grant Achatz at Alinea. Anderson spent time under Thomas Keller at The French Laundry and Rene Redzepi at Noma. The beverage director/front-of-house manager Jane Lopes also has a resume that includes a stint at The Violet Hour. The pedigree shows in the performance here.

The restaurant is located next to the stylish Patterson House. This cocktail bar is run by the same company as The Catbird Seat. The house-made ice and bitters are ingredients in cocktails that like the Roman god Janus look to the past while also seeing the future.

The Catbird Seat is a small restaurant. Seating surrounds the kitchen area, allowing diners to watch the chefs prepare each dish. Dinner was a 10 course degustation with a few extra amuse-bouche thrown in for good measure. The kitchen can accommodate any dietary restrictions with advance notice.

 Vegetarian courses tend to mirror the standard chef's menu. There are two levels of beverage pairings, and bottles of wine may also be ordered.

The amuse-bouche was a savory cheese cookie that looked like an Oreo. It was similar to a classic dish that Grant Achatz made at Trio in Evanston. Achatz's savory parmesan ice cream sandwich looked and tasted like this teaser at The Catbird Seat. The conclusion of the meal was a sweet version of an identical cookie.

The first course was a trio, with a smoked root vegetable and cheese bite, a shiitake Cracker Jack corn, and a seasoned radish flavored to taste like the Nashville classic Hot Chicken. The Cracker Jack and "Hot Chicken" exploded with flavor. It was paired with a dry Riesling by Stock and Stein.

The second course was made with grated burnt bread, an off-the-wall ingredient that worked way better than it should have. There was also a fennel blossom salad with ramp capers, juniper, quince, lychee and almond that had a bright, clean citrus essence. It was served with Delheim Gewurztraminer from Stellenbosch, South Africa dosed with a mint tincture.

The kimchi was  cabbage, avocado, kiwi, watermelon rind and shaved coconut. The greens atop the slaw added an earthy layer to the dish. The slightly sweeter Airfield Estates Riesling was a bracing palate cleanser.

The plating on the grilled vegetable course was spectacular with perfect cross hatches on the squash. The layers of peas and cheese bring understated vegetal touches to the dish, and the Depeuble Beaujolais brought in subtle tobacco notes.

The dish that was the vegetarian equivalent of the beef course featured house-made seitan with a perfect texture. It had cleaner taste than packaged wheat protein. The Portuguese red wine added nuance to the mushroom flavors of the dish.

The cheese course was Jasper Hill Harbison cheese, an oozing cow milk cheese with hints of flowers and pine. Dried hibiscus, blueberry and gingersnaps bring different flavors to a luxurious cheese, as did the Tripel Karmeliet, a Belgian abbey ale.

Dessert was split into three courses. The first was a peach sorbet with walnut ice cream, Fernet Branca gel, walnut pudding and a cardamom crisp. While many of the elements worked well on their own, the Fernet Branca is such an overpowering flavor that it obliterated the taste of anything else.

The maple custard was served in a cracked egg with a crisped candied carrot and a sprig of thyme. It was rich and luxurious. It was served with a Sawa Sawa sparkling sake that was off dry with a faint vanilla base. The bubbly sake complemented the dish while also clearing the palate. 

 The final course was a playful take on pineapple upside down cake. The vanilla cake was topped with pineapple gel, smoked oak ice cream, cherry peanut crisps and a bourbon gel ball. Different pairings of ingredients yielded entirely different experiences with a surprise around each corner. 

Reservations at The Catbird Seat are a little tricky, but it becomes easier if you keep a few tips in mind. Reservations open 30 days in advance on the website at midnight Central Time. Reservations disappear quickly, although last minute cancellations sometimes allow diners to procure last-minute seats. Check Twitter or email directly for details.     

The Catbird Seat on Urbanspoon

14 November 2012

Yazoo Brewing Company

Yazoo Brewing Company brews Nashville's most well known beers. I first heard of their smoked imperial stout Yazoo Sue as an ingredient in Jeni's Yazoo Sue with rosemary bar nuts ice cream. Tours of the brewery on Saturdays include liberal samples from their brewing lineup. 

 Located in The Gulch, the Yazoo taproom is adjacent to the brewing facilities. The most common draft around Nashville seems to be Dos Perros, a Mexican style altbier. It has a clean flavor and pronounced European hops that come off like Dos Equis' designer cousin.

 Yazoo makes a pale ale, and they also produce a brew called Hop Project that showcases different varietal and regional hop types. The tour offered a single farm wild hop brew that had interesting wax and pine notes that emerged from the toasty malt base. 

The Gerst is an amber session brew named after an old German restaurant. It is bright and drinks easy. The kitschy logo evokes America's early German brewing heritage.

The hefeweizen is much in the classic style. It emphasizes bright citrus notes that cry out for warm weather.

Yazoo Sue cannot be purchased on site because of Tennessee's curious alcohol laws. It can be bought at stores that sell high gravity beer.

Yazoo Brewing Co. on Urbanspoon

13 November 2012


I checked out Fido near Vanderbilt after seeing the massive line outside The Pancake Pantry. Fido is a Bongo Java coffee shop that serves breakfast all day. It was a busy Saturday with the Florida-Vanderbilt game. Even with the booming business, the wait clocked in at about an hour.

Fido makes most ingredients in house, and sources many items locally. They make a large number of vegan baked goods, and there are a number of vegetarian items on the separate breakfast and lunch menus. 

The Hangover sandwich is made on your choice of bagel with veggie sausage and cream cheese. It makes for a nice breakfast that can be eaten with one hand. The sausage crumbles nicely, and the cream cheese adds a nice richness to the sandwich.

The baked goods look fantastic, and all ingredients are listed on each item.The vegan pecan chocolate chip cookie was an ample delight. 

The pumpkin latte displayed layers of nutmeg and cinnamon. It was a well made drink.

The decor is dog-themed. The average wait time is typically shorter than I experienced, and Fido performed well during a busy rush.

Fido on Urbanspoon

08 November 2012

Chago's Cantina

Chago's Cantina is a Mexican/Latin American restaurant in the Belmont area of Nashville. Located near Vanderbilt and Belmont College, Chago's offers plenty of options for vegetarians.

While the food is the main attraction at Chago's, plenty of people show up for the drinks. Chago's makes margaritas in all sizes and formulations. There is also a decent beer selection, and happy hour prices make the bar a destination.

While there are traditional Mexican and Central American staples on the menu, Chago's puts a fusion twist on many of the dishes. Its closest approximation in Columbus and Pittsburgh is Mad Mex

The menu at Chago's is labeled for vegetarians and vegans, including the sides. Service capably addresses dining concerns. 

The guacamole was average. It was well made, but lacked any real punch. 

The pupusas, on the other hand, were great. The traditional Salvadoran corn pancakes are stuffed with beans and cheese, then topped with white curtido slaw. It can be ordered as an appetizer, or as a main course with rice and beans. 

Chago's Cantina on Urbanspoon

06 November 2012

Las Paletas Gourmet Popsicles

Las Paletas has to be Nashville's most heralded stop for dessert. Retailers all around the city sell the delightful Mexican style popsicles.

The main storefront is in the 12 South neighborhood. Flavors are grouped into fruity, creamy and none-of-the-above categories. Popsicles can also be dipped in local Olive and Sinclair chocolate.

Fruit flavors included strawberry kiwi, lime and cantaloupe. Creamy flavors were chocolate chili, pineapple coconut and banana chocolate chip.

The chocolate chili has a deep, spicy taste. The avocado, when dipped in chocolate, has a perfect richness.

Las Paletas Gourmet Popsicles on Urbanspoon

01 November 2012

Nashville Farmers' Market

The Nashville Farmers' Market is a foodie's dream, with row upon row of restaurants, vendors, farmers and more available to eat or browse. If you can eat it, you'll probably find it at the Nashville Farmers' Market.

Operations rotate in and out of the market. It is divided into a food court with restaurants and ample seating, a farmers' market with fresh produce and local foodstuffs, and a flea market with clothing, artwork and assorted knickknacks. Some places operate on different days of the week; check out the website for a schedule.

There are plenty of options for vegans and vegetarians. Check with individual vendors for details.

Service runs the gamut from take-out to table service. It's easy to make a meal at many different restaurants.

AM/FM is a deli run by Top Chef Season 7 alum/Nashville restaurant impresario Arnold Myint. The table service is excellent, and it even features alcoholic beverages.    

The menu at AM/FM has a few items that remain throughout the year, and seasonal items that change regularly. The pumpkin bisque displayed the flavors of fall with notes of cinnamon, nutmeg and roasted shallots.

The roasted veggie sandwich is a panini made with goat cheese, spinach, roasted red peppers, eggplant and caramelized onions. The charred veggies are brightened by the fresh creamy cheese. The chips are a perfect crispy complement.

The brownie bites were a great finish to a meal.

I didn't get a chance to sample it, but the Bella Nashville pizzeria came highly recommended by almost everybody, most importantly Josh Habinger of the much talked about Catbird Seat. Habinger worked with Dave Cuomo, the owner of Bella Nashville, at the Patterson House, the upscale speakeasy cocktail bar next to Catbird Seat. Emma Berkey, the other half of Bella Nashville, worked at the Wild Cow, Music City's foremost vegetarian restaurant.

Bella Nashville offers at least one vegetarian pizza daily. The thin crust pies bake in about 90 seconds, and it looks difficult to wait that long to eat one.

There are a number of international eateries with vegetarian options at the market. Jamaicaway makes Caribbean food, and the menu is largely vegetarian. Swagruha, a South Indian restaurant, is vegetarian friendly like most Indian restaurants. El Burrito Mexicano serves up massive portions of delicious looking food, and their beans are vegetarian to boot.  

There is an ocean of baked goods at the market as well. Whitney May runs the Sweet Stash, which makes cupcakes, cookies, truffles and other desserts. The chocolate whoopie pie was served on a colorful plate that made the goo sandwich almost jump off the plate, and bittersweet cocoa flavor was greatly enhanced by the richness of the cream filling.

The ButterCake Babe specializes in coffee cake in a rainbow of flavors as well as other pastries that taste great with tea and coffee. The Elvis cake tastes just like the King would like it, with layers of banana, chocolate and peanut butter spinning atop a buttery base.    

The farm shed merchants have a great range of fresh produce, milk, eggs, spices and gardening supplies. Like the restaurants, vendors all operate on different schedules. While there are a smaller number of restaurants at the Nashville Farmers' Market than at my hometown North Market, there is a great deal more space in Nashville devoted to local farmers. 

The market is a great way to spend a lunch break or a weekend in Music City. You could graze for days and still never eat the same thing twice.    

Am@Fm on Urbanspoon

25 October 2012

Couva Calypso Cafe

Couva Calypso Cafe is a small Tennessee chain with a tremendous variety of menu items for vegetarian and vegan diners. Service is fast-casual, and prices are inexpensive.

Though the main focus of the cuisine at this restaurant is Caribbean, there are also plenty of Americanized vegetarian options like a veggie burger for less adventurous eaters. Many dishes contain black beans, and the legume makes many appearances in the dining room decor.

The menu consists of appetizers, salads, sandwiches and combo platters built around the ubiquitous black beans. Vegan and vegetarian menu items are identified by symbols.

The nachos come in a massive portion, topped with cheese, black beans, tomatoes, peppers and red onions. While it's a solid starter to share, the barbecue sauce added little to the dish. Salsa would make a more natural accompaniment.

The stand-alone black beans have a smoky essence with hints of garlic and citrus. The St. Lucian rice is a good addition to the Beans and Three platter, an order of beans with three different sides. The mustard greens had a clean flavor that is surprisingly mild. The spiced sweet potatoes are topped with grated coconut, and its sweetness is wrapped up by spicy cinnamon and nutmeg.

Couva Calypso Cafe has a few dessert items, including lime pie, carrot cake and chocolate mint squares. They sell a limited selection of bottled beers.

Couva Calypso Cafe on Urbanspoon

17 October 2012

Hillbilly Tea

Hillbilly Tea is a restaurant serving delicious Southern takes on tea house fare. You feel the tongue-in-cheek humor walking through the door, but the food coming out of the kitchen is seriously delicious.

They take great pains selecting fresh ingredients for Chef Arpi Lengyel's kitchen, accompanied by tasty teas. Vegan and vegetarian choices abound on the menu.

There are two levels of seating at Hillbilly Tea. There was live bluegrass on the first floor during Sunday brunch.

Brunch was split about evenly between breakfast and lunch items. Those looking for sweet or savory choices would be equally pleased.

The corn fried tofu with house made barbecue sauce is on the brunch and dinner menus. These are like tofu hush puppies, and they could be eaten by the truckload. The smoky sauce adds punch to this starter.

The vegan forest mushroom burger had nice grill marks, and it was served on a fluffy square bun. The earthy flavor gave the patty a rich base, and the slaw and tomato jam add a sweet contrast.

The biscuits and mushroom gravy were served with a poached egg. The dish's plating was striking.

Other meatless items on the brunch menu include a smoked tofu scramble and cornmeal pancakes with molasses syrup, fruit and smoked butter. There is chicken fried tofu on the dinner menu.

The teas are available hot and cold in a variety of blends and varietal selections. Hillbilly Tea also has a full bar that serves tea-infused vodka.  

Service was quick and friendly. The menu takes much of the guesswork out of vegan and vegetarian menu items, but the server still made excellent recommendations.

Hillbilly Tea on Urbanspoon

16 October 2012

Joe Davola's

Joe Davola's is a low-key Louisville deli located in the Germantown neighborhood. House-made ingredients star at the restaurant, which makes excellent accommodations for vegetarian and vegan diners.

The staff was friendly and helpful. Prices are inexpensive. The decor has subtle Seinfeld elements throughout, and the television shows Seinfeld episodes.

Sandwiches are prepared on wheatberry bread or in a spinach wrap. The thick slices of bread do a great job containing the violent veggie meatloaf, a vegan patty made with textured vegetable protein and sauteed veggies with a texture good enough to feel meat eaters into ordering it. The sandwich is topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, tomato sauce and horseradish mayo. It tastes like grandma's meatloaf if grandma was a granola-eating hippie from Berkeley.

Joe Davola's has a vegetarian soup daily. It was cream of cauliflower when I visited. The soup was a little too course, and it lacked a little seasoning. The house croutons add a nice crunch and flavor to the soup.

There are plenty of salads available in small and large sizes, and as part of a combo. One of the more clever names was I-Art-i-choke-ya, an artichoke salad with plenty of Greek accents.

The chocolate chip cookies were warm and chewy right out of the oven, and they became more crunchy as they cooled. I was a nice conclusion to the meal.

Joe Davola's on Urbanspoon

24 September 2012

The Polish Nose

The Polish Nose is a new pierogi cart that operated for the first time at Independents' Day. Proprietor Brandon Wilburn prepares Polish dumplings in traditional and not-so-traditional flavor combinations with a variety of condiments served on the side.

Wilburn said that his great grandfather was Polish, and that he has fond memories of eating pierogi as a child. He figures that since pierogi are a versatile dumpling, it provides a nice palette on which to experiment with flavors. 

Experiments aside, the Old Faithful is, of course, a traditional potato and cheese dumpling flecked with garlic and served with a side of caramelized onions and sour cream or Greek yogurt. The dumplings are fried on the griddle to give them the traditional texture and flavor. The filling was soft, and the potatoes and cheese were sweetened slightly by the roasted garlic.

The Pumpkin Poser was a sweet potato pie pierogi. While dessert pierogi are common in Polish restaurants, this puts a Southern fried spin on the category. It is somewhat reminiscent of pumpkin pie. It is served with whipped cream and graham cracker crumbles.

Wilburn plans to operate the Polish Nose at a few bars and events in the future on a limited basis, possibly even preparing pierogi for a kitchen to sell. He said a brick-and-mortar location might be in the cards for the future, but for now, he'll operate a food cart and keep his full-time job. Updates on the cart's location can be found on Facebook.

These two pierogi are acceptable for vegetarians to eat. There was a third pierogi on the menu that contained meat that was prepared on the same griddle. Wilburn said that he had experimented with vegan pierogi dough, and mentioned that he might consider making vegan dough in the future, but he had to test the recipes.

Polish Nose Mobile Food Truck on Urbanspoon

13 September 2012

Merlion Noodle and Rice

Merlion Noodle and Rice is a restaurant that specializes in the cuisine of Malaysia and Singapore. Since I am a vegetarian who has never eaten the food from these countries, I decided to head up Clintonville to see what they serve to those who like to eat food without a face.

The cuisine of Singapore and Malaysia is an interesting hodge podge that combines influences from the cultures that surround them. There are Chinese, Indonesian and Indian elements to dishes, and they can be rooted in some or all of these cuisines.  

There are not a tremendous amount of vegetarian dishes at Merlion. There are five vegetarian appetizers, which include vegetable spring rolls, tofu nuggets, sesame tofu, edamame and fried eggplant. There is one vegetarian entree on the dinner menu. The hot plate tofu is prepared with pork. There are a number of traditional Chinese tofu dishes on the lunch menu.

The fried eggplant is prepared with a delightful breading that is thick and soft yet delightfully crunchy. The thick pieces of eggplant soak up the sweet and sour dipping sauce. 

The clay pot tofu is a traditional preparation of tofu and Chinese vegetables in a mild brown sauce. The triangles of tofu are tossed with onions, carrots, baby corn, water chestnuts and bok choy. The dish is slow cooked in an oven in an adorable Hello, Kitty clay pot. 

The slow cooking gives the tofu a crisp exterior with a soft interior. The vegetables are steamed during the cooking process. The bok choy in particular has a great texture that walks a fine line between supple and crunchy. The sauce has a nice flavor, but it could benefit from a little more seasoning or a greater reduction. 

The restaurant is small. It seats about 20. The staff is friendly. They speak English as a second language, so obtaining information about ingredients in dishes requires persistence.

The house-made beverages at Merlion are excellent. The soy milk has a round, clean flavor. The ginger tea is bright and herbaceous. 

While there isn't a tremendous amount of vegetarian food at Merlion, the fresh ingredients combined with exotic flavors make it definitely worth a second look.

Merlion Noodle & Rice on Urbanspoon

06 September 2012

Pera Fresh Food

Pera Fresh Food is a fast-casual Mediterranean eatery located in the old Ali Baba space on campus. As would be expected, they serve inexpensive, healthy Middle Eastern eats on the fly.

Where Ali Baba offered a full service menu that focused on variety, Pera makes a small number of healthy lunchtime standards. 

The set-up at Pera is similar to Chipotle, where customers choose combinations of rice and vegetables as the foundation of their bowl, salad or flatbread wrap. Prices are reasonable. Falafel wraps are less than $5 at select times.

 The wraps are made on lavash bread that is warmed in the oven when ordered. It can be customized with veggies, including cucumbers, black olives, onions, spinach, tomatoes and more, as well as sauces like tzatziki, hummus and harissa. The falafel lacked a little crispiness, but had a pleasant flavor. The wrap is a full lunch if a side dish is added.

The hummus has a deep herbal flavor that also picks up spice from the dollop of harissa that floats on its surface. While the hummus is good, it is difficult to eat in the shallow take-out cup in which it is served, and it is challenging to order because bread must be ordered on the side a la carte. Bread probably should be included in the purchase price.

Desserts mostly lacked character. The rice pudding was bland and mealy. The baklava was good, but wasn't fresh or house-made.

Overall, service at Pera is fast. The prices are reasonable, but considering that most Mediterranean food is inexpensive, Pera may find it difficult to stand out. A plethora of restaurants have opened in the past few years that make better food for essentially the same price. 

Pera Fresh Istanbul Food on Urbanspoon

28 August 2012

Murray's Cheese at Kroger

The cheese selection at Kroger just got better with a new New York City import.

Three central Ohio Kroger Marketplace stores are going to partner with Murray's, NYC's original cheese shop, to add variety to Kroger's specialty cheese case.

To showcase its first Murray's in the area, Kroger hosted a blogger tasting at the Sawmill Road location this past Thursday. Disclosure: the wine and cheese in the tasting were provided free of charge. I was also given a bag with cheese and the Murray's Cheese Handbook. Like most cheese shops, Murray's will let you taste just about anything in the case.

The event was an introduction to Murray's, its history and its approach to cheese. While this is the first Murray's in central Ohio, others have recently opened near Cincinnati and Dayton.

Murray's organizes its cheeses by flavor (mild to sharp), and then by category (soft-ripened, blue, et al.). There are a ton of classic imports, as well as big-name American cheeses from all over. The Ohio cheese selection is currently limited, but Nathan Aldridge, the manager presenting the tasting, expressed an interest in carrying more as he becomes more familiar with Buckeye State producers.

Despite the local shortcoming, Murray's really does offer a great selection of cheese. Some of the stars of the tasting included the fresh Vermont Butter & Cheese Company's goat cheese, a crumbly, soft mild cheese with a light clean flavor. The fromager d'affinois is a soft-ripened goat cheese with the flavor of triple-cream cheese like St. Andre (it's actually a double-cream) and an unctuous texture that practically runs down your arm. The Pleasant Ridge raw cow's milk cheese had a funky herbal flavor that finished with bright citrus notes. The black label Cambozola is a blue cheese that's mild enough to win over those who hate blue cheese, and complex enough to make moldy cheese fans come back for more.

The staff is extremely knowledgeable about cheeses, as would be expected at an operation carrying Murray's name. They should be able to find a cheese for every palate. Like most cheese shops, Murray's will let you taste just about anything in the case. Vegetarians take note: Murray's lists the enzymes used in all of the cheeses, allowing vegetarians to avoid cheeses made with animal rennet.

While the first Murray's is open in the area, two more should open by year's end. The Brewery District Kroger and the Dublin Kroger on Hospital Drive will look much like the Sawmill location. The Brewery District Kroger might offer a little more cut-to-order cheese than the other two because of its layout.

It will be interesting to see how Murray's fits into the gourmet scene in central Ohio. While Murray's is a high-profile name in the industry, Whole Foods, The Hills Market, Katzinger's, the Giant Eagle Market District and Curds and Whey in the North Market have pretty formidable cheese selections, too. It will make great cheese more accessible to those who live near these Kroger locations, but will the Murray's name and approach be enough to draw people from outside the stores' vicinity who shop at these other area cheese providers?

23 August 2012

DiBella's Original Subs

DiBella's Original Subs is a small regional sandwich chain that has recently opened two locations in central Ohio. The menu consists of fairly standard sub shop fare that is elevated by fresh baked bread and a nice variety of sandwich toppings.

Dibella's offers cheesesteaks, which takes me back to the first vegetarian sandwich I ever ate. A vegetarian co-worker of mine in the mid-1990s used to order the vegetarian sandwich from Steak Escape. In retrospect, I probably wouldn't find the Steak Escape sandwich quite as good as I did in high school. That notwithstanding, the addition of better bread and additional toppings at DiBella's adds another wrinkle to a type of sandwich I recall fondly.

There are three sizes of sandwich at DiBella's. The large is more than a foot long, served on multigrain, sesame, everything or plain white bread. Toppings like roasted red peppers add a nice punch to a sub. Subs can be ordered hot or cold.

The multigrain bread has a good flavor. I can't say no to veggies, so my sandwich had just about every veggie behind the counter.

Prices at DiBella's are reasonable. The veggie sandwich is about a dollar more than Subway's footlong Veggie Delight with superior ingredients on every level. It's definitely worth a try.    

DiBella's on Urbanspoon

16 August 2012


Ajumama is a Korean street food cart that specializes in items that are a little deeper on the menu than simple kimchi and bibimbop. Proprietor Laura Lee makes delicious food that possesses a heart full of Seoul (soul).

The signature menu item is a pajeon, a Korean pancake with green onions and a variety of different fillings. The pancakes are made with egg; there is no vegan option.

The Nelson is a pajeon made with mixed vegetables. The veggies were different on two different visits. Both times they were prepared with green onions. There was roasted corn in the pancake on a second visit. The soy vinegar sauce gives the pajeon a salty, savory explosion of flavor.

Sometimes, a vegan rice porridge is on the menu. I have not sampled it.

The hodduk is pretty much the best dessert that I had never heard of before trying it this summer, and I am not certain how I lived this long without one. It is a soft pocket stuffed with nuts and molten brown sugar. It's hard to eat just one.

Ajumama seems to be a fixture at Dinin' Hall in Franklinton on Wednesdays this month. It can be tracked down on other days on Facebook and Twitter

Ajumama on Urbanspoon

09 August 2012

Yogi Perogi

Yogi Perogi is a Grandview restaurant specializing in the famous Polish dumpling. The pierogi at Yogi Perogi are given an international spin by owner John Wagner. The space is small; though mostly designed for take-out, there is seating for about 12 inside.

Pierogi flavors include the classic potato and cheddar, mushroom and Swiss cheese, and spinach and feta cheese. They can be ordered individually or in frozen three-packs to make at home. The pierogi on the menu are vegetarian but not vegan. There is a vegan pierogi that can be requested that does not appear on the menu. There are also salads and sometimes vegetarian soup.

The pan fried pierogi pick up a perfect texture that is delicate while being both light and crisp. The potato and cheese filling has black pepper accents. 

The spinach and feta cheese had a bright green color and a bright taste. It paired great with tzatziki sauce.

The mushroom and Swiss pierogi were earthy, and the kraut, common in Polish fare, gives the dish a more German character.

It might be worthwhile to bench the Mr. & Mrs. T's pierogi that have been festering in the back of your freezer and replace them with a pile of pierogi from Yogi Perogi. Between Hania's, Sophie's, Babushka's and Yogi, the area has been inundated with pierogi over the last few years, and these are good enough to stand out from the pack.

Yogi Perogi on Urbanspoon

31 July 2012

Papaya Street Grill

Papaya Street Grill is a fast-casual restaurant with a global menu located in Dublin. Dishes and sauces travel the globe from Thailand to Bali to Minnesota and beyond.

While the menu listed plenty of options for vegan and vegetarian diners, the counter staff was flummoxed by questions about the ingredients in particular sauces. Diners with allergies might want to contact Papaya Street Grill ahead of time. Nervous vegetarian diners could also order only vegan items from the menu if they are unable to confirm what ingredients are in particular dishes.

The build-your-own bowl entree can be built on salad, rice or noodles. Tofu can be added and a sauce can be chosen. The vegetables were limp and needed sauce to cover up the imperfections. 

While the concept of Papaya Street Grill is interesting, getting answers to dietary concerns is difficult. The food isn't good enough to make the struggle worthwhile. 

Papaya Street Grill on Urbanspoon

20 July 2012

Columbus Food Truck and Cart Festival 2012

Year two of the Columbus Food Truck and Cart Fest in Columbus Commons was a great opportunity to try a pile of food trucks in one sitting. This year's festival had 35 trucks from central Ohio and beyond take part in the 10-hour event.

Since I have tried many of the other trucks before, this was an opportunity to try vendors that I hadn't encountered before. I especially wanted to try the out-of-town options.

However, I displayed local pride by trying Sweet Carrot first. Sweet Carrot is a truck that is linked with a catering company. The primary focus is weddings and business catering. 

The fried artichokes, like other dishes, were served either plain with sauce in a paper boat or on a thin corn pancake. The perfectly breaded fritters came with a chipotle aioli. 

The mac and cheese had a thick, crunchy top and a gooey, cheese sauce that held the elbow macaroni together. It was a nice portion for $4.

Sweet Carrot's dessert, was of course, carrot cake. Unfortunately I didn't get to try it.

Nosh Box is a comfort food truck from Cleveland. It was profiled in depth on Eat Street, the food truck show on the Cooking Channel.

The menu allowed for sampling since half sandwiches could be ordered. Selections included burgers, a non-vegetarian mac and cheese sandwich,  Caprese pesto panini and tater tots.

The grill marks were evident on the Caprese  sandwich bread as well as its interior. The soft mozzarella picked up smoke and sweetness from the thin tomato slices. The pesto added a garlic accent to the crispy panino.

Not Guilty is a grilled cheese and smoothie cart that parks down the street from the Burrito Buggy in Athens. They focus on local ingredients - Not Guilty is part of Athens' 30 Mile Meal program.

There are three vegetarian sandwiches at Not Guilty, as well as seasonal specials. There are also vegetarian baked goods, gazpacho, watermelon and smoothies. 

The Meigs County Red is pepperjack and colby cheese with thick Ohio valley tomato on 10-grain bread. The great ingredients make an even better sandwich. 

18 July 2012

Inner Circle Street Food

Inner Circle Street Food makes its own vegan sausage, and it's amazing. Track this cart down immediately and put in an order.

Rich Stewart, who owns and operates Inner Circle, is a Dragonfly alum. His sausages are made without a casing, unrolled from a plastic wrap on the grill surface. The texture is firm, and the herbal flavor is clean and bright.

There were three different dogs at the St. James Mobile Monday event. The Scioto Shore Sausage is topped with sauteed peppers and onions, fig preserves and spicy mustard. The jam adds a nice sweetness to the bright veggies, and the mustard gives the sausage a spicy kick. 

The Sommerwurst was topped with leafy greens, vegan mayo, mustard and red cabbage slaw. The slaw is visually striking with vibrant color and a nice crunch.

The Sweet Caroline-uh comes with mustard, tomato jam, slaw, sweet pickles and potato chips. The haphazard combination of ingredients works well together. The vegan bun is large with enough soft pockets to hold the hot dog and its ingredients in place.

With Rad Dog hanging it up for the foreseeable future, Inner Circle should comfortably satisfy the mobile vegan hot dog cravings of Columbus.

Inner Circle Street Food Truck on Urbanspoon

06 July 2012

The Green Meanie

The Green Meanie is a food truck with bright flavor to match its paint job. The menu is international, held together by the common theme of green ingredients. There is one vegetarian sandwich on the menu that can be prepared vegan upon request.

The Green Thumb is a grilled portabella flatbread sandwich with fresh mozzarella, arugula, cherry tomatoes, avocado, green onions and fresh cilantro with a creamy sauce and a pesto sauce. The mushroom was soft and smoky with an excellent texture. The sauces added a nice herbal tone to a great sandwich.

Fries with aioli are available as a side. 

The truck can be found via the usual social media suspects

The Green Meanie on Urbanspoon

22 June 2012

Spud Bus

Spud Bus was at the Park Street Festival. It sells fresh cut fries with a variety of condiments.

The Spud Bus is based in Reynoldsburg. It operated at a rapid pace.

There are Idaho russet and sweet potato fries prepared in peanut oil. Dip choices include sun dried tomato mayo, parmesan pesto, mustard, nacho cheese and ranch. They are served in a paper cone in a manner reminiscent of Belgian frites.

The standard fries were starchy and lacked crispness. Fresh cut fries are a nice idea, but this batch was imperfect.

The pesto dip was too thick and had a green, medicinal aftertaste. Perhaps one of the other dips or the complimentary ketchup would be better options.

The fries from Spud Bus were unspectacular. The Tatoheads truck is decidedly more fun and flavorful.

Spud Bus on Urbanspoon

15 June 2012

Sophie's Gourmet Pierogi

Sophie's Gourmet Pierogiis a new food truck specializing in the famous Polish dumpling accented with international flavor. It makes regular appearances at the Columbus Commons Food Truck Food CourtDinin' Hall and other spots around central Ohio.

Sophie's prepares all of its pierogi in butter, so vegans are out of luck except for salads. The staff capably answered all vegetarian questions, and prepared a fresh order of veggies as a side after I asked questions about vegetarian items.

The Vintage is an order of potato and cheese pierogi served with sauteed onions, sour cream and compound butter. The pierogi are boiled and then pan fried golden and delicately crispy. It is an excellent example of a traditional pierogi. The only two minor issues were that the compound butter was a little cold and difficult to incorporate into the dish, and the number of pierogi varied in three different orders.

The summer salad was cucumbers, tomatoes and red onions in a vinaigrette topped with crumbled Asiago cheese. It was only available at my first visit to the truck.

The crew actually does a great job handling large crowds. There is a hot serving bar in the truck window, allowing pierogi to be churned out rapid-fire to waiting diners. At slower stretches, pierogi are prepared to order. 

Sophie's Gourmet Pierogi on Urbanspoon

13 June 2012

OH! Burgers

OH! Burgers is a food truck specializing in sliders. There are two mini-burgers per order.

The veggie burger patty is quinoa, black bean, rice, onions and peppers. It is served on a soft white bun from the French Loaf in Grandview, and it is topped with bean sprouts, cucumber, tomato and mustard.

The flavor of the burger has layers of smoke and sweetness. The texture of the patty is soft, and the burger crumbles so much that it resembles a sloppy Joe more than a burger. The preparation of the veggie burger at OH! Burgers is evolving, so consider the recipe a bit of a work in progress.

The house made sweet potato chips were an addictive delight. They were paper thin, and the paper bag that contained the chips soaked up some but not all of the excess grease. It's a nice upgrade over ordinary bagged chips despite the minor shortcoming.

OH! Burgers on Urbanspoon