29 May 2013

Arch City Tavern

Arch City Tavern is the latest addition to the burgeoning gastropub scene in central Ohio. It makes great use of the space, which is decorated with Columbus' signature arches as well as a black and white pencil illustration of the Short North from days gone by. 

The food and drinks from Arch City show a great deal of careful craftsmanship. There isn't really a clunker on the menu by partners Komi Memushaj and Xhevair Brakaj.

The kitchen produces a few vegetarian starters, pizzas and a portabella sandwich. The bar serves a great selection of taps including options from Great Lakes, Bell's, Dogfish Head, Columbus Brewing, Four String and 21st Amendment, as well as artful cocktails that explode with flavor. The Kerr Street Mule, a modified Moscow Mule, is made with Watershed vodka, Roake ginger syrup (a simple syrup made by a bartender in downtown Columbus), fresh lime and nutmeg. 

The fries are treated with truffle oil and parmesan, served with two different aioli, one a rich, spicy chili dip and the other a slightly bitter fresh watercress aioli with a minty finish. The potatoes look great wrapped up like Belgian frites.

The Bibb salad consists of Bibb lettuce, beets, sliced almonds, artichokes and apples. It is dressed with a Green Goddess dressing. The crunchy and crispy ingredients give the salad a perfect texture. 

The portabella sandwich is topped with roasted red peppers, goat cheese, griddled onions and arugula. The mushroom was soft and meaty with one side cooked well enough to give it a delightful crunch. The bun stands up well to the wet ingredients.

With so many gastropubs opening up in the area in the past year, places have to do a lot to stand out. Arch City Tavern definitely rises above the fray.

Arch City Tavern on Urbanspoon

23 May 2013

Rancho Alegre

Rancho Alegre is a small Tex Mex chain near Columbus. What it lacks in authenticity it makes up for with ample portions and larger margaritas. It's a step up in quality from its run-of-the-mill competitors (El Vaquero and Las Margaritas come readily to mind).

The main attraction at Rancho Alegre is the whole section of vegetarian combination platters as well as vegetarian fajitas and other entrees. Both the rice and beans are vegetarian items.

The guacamole appetizer is average but fairly priced. Other meatless appetizers include avocado salad, queso dip and stuffed jalepeƱos.

Many items, including enchiladas and tostadas, are served in a mild red sauce covered with cheese, lettuce and tomato. The tostada and the chile rellenos were well made. 

Margaritas definitely contain plenty of tequila. They are made with a sour mix/lime juice base with triple sec and served in a variety of sizes including pitchers.

Service is brisk and personable. The manager was extremely friendly, stopping by each table to check on customer satisfaction. Staff eventually was able to answer vegetarian dining concerns, although some staff speak better English than others.

Rancho Alegre is a restaurant that won't blow you away yet is still fun enough to keep you interested. Prices are reasonable, and the restaurant makes better use of the space than the Las Margaritas did before it.

Rancho Alegre on Urbanspoon

18 May 2013

The best veggie burgers in Central Ohio

Columbus is one of the best cities in Ohio for vegetarian and vegan diners. The large college age population combined with an ethnically diverse culture supports an environment rich with meatless dining options built from fresh local produce. Few cities in Ohio, or even the U.S., cater to vegetarian diners as well as Columbus.

The fresh produce in the region also provides fantastic raw ingredients, and these ingredients are key to creating great veggie burgers, a staple of vegetarian restaurant-goers.  Columbus has a variety of different veggie burgers served by a myriad of different restaurants. Here is a rundown of some of some of what the best veggie burgers to be found in and around the city.

Best haute burger

Sure, a patty served on a bun with potatoes as a side is hardly anybody's idea of four-star dining. But the veggie burger with avocado and corn elote from Third & Hollywood elevates a house made vegetable patty into a fine art.

There is definitely brown rice, black beans, onions and a pinch of garlic in the patty, and the avocado adds umami to the veggie burger. It picks up smoky notes from the grill top, and the seasoned corn gives it a nice Southwestern flavor. It is served on a soft, organic bun.

The patty is the same as the Northstar Cafe veggie burger, but the toppings and sides are elevated at Third & Hollywood. At $15, this is an expensive veggie burger, but it is fresh and satisfying - can you really put a price on that?

Honorable mentions: Worthington Inn, Northstar Cafe, J. Alexander's

Best pub burger

A veggie burger is usually enjoyed in a casual environment. The sporty/casual Barley's Brewing Company, which serves veggie burgers at its High Street location as well as the Smokehouse in Dublin, also makes great beer that is a perfect complement to the house-made patty.

The soft patty is fashioned from chopped portabella mushrooms, black beans, rice, garlic and a variety of vegetables. The burger is even better when accompanied by one of Barley's brews, and it becomes nearly perfect when served with a side of pierogi. 

Honorable mentions: Matt the Miller's, Hal & Al's Smokehouse BBQ Luna Burger

Best mobile burger

The food truck and cart craze exploded nationally, and that trend is evident in Columbus. Almost any cuisine can be sampled from mobile kitchens that set up all around the 614 area code. While there are many veggie burgers at these mobile food operations, the High Street Herbivore from Street Thyme is the best of the bunch.
Steven Zeppetella, the proprietor of Street Thyme, formerly was a sous chef at the Elevator Brewing Company. His culinary pedigree shows in the double burger, which is made from chickpeas, lentils and corn and topped with a curried yogurt sauce.

The burger goes well with the delicious milkshakes from Street Thyme, as well as the house made tater tots. In order to chase Street Thyme down, check out their location on Twitter and Facebook.

Honorable mentions: OH! Burgers sliders

Best burger you can make at home

Sure getting a veggie burger from a restaurant is nice. But when you want to exercise your culinary muscles while saving a little time, nothing beats firing up the grill, tossing on veggie burgers and choosing your own toppings in the comfort of your own home. If you take this approach to eating veggie burgers, it's hard to beat the delicious patties from Luna Burger

The vegan patties come in multiple flavors. My favorite is the Farmhouse Chili, made from black beans, spelt, kale, cumin, garlic and pepper. It is delicately spicy with a deep flavor that can support a variety of Southwestern, Tex-Mex or Mexican ingredients as well as typical Yankee condiments.

Many restaurants around Columbus sell Luna Burgers too if you don't feel like cooking. 

Honorable mentions: Original Luna Burger, Peanut Cilantro Luna Burger

Best veggie burger alchemy

Whole World Natural Cafe and Bakery is the dean of Columbus vegetarian restaurants. When the other meatless restaurants in the area were merely a dream of their creators, the Whole World Cafe had already been around the block and back again. It has been feeding vegetarians in Clintonville for almost 35 years now. 

While the broccoli burger sounds innocuous, the ingredients seem more incompatible upon closer examination. The patty is made from broccoli, peanut butter, brown rice, garlic, onions and bread crumbs, mashed into a uniform consistency and grilled. If broccoli and peanut butter sound like a horrible match, imagine that the burger is made from truffles and fairy dust and let the ingredients do the rest of the work. The rich peanut butter holds the patty's impossibly harmonious elements together.

The restaurant in Clintonville is fun. Whole World sometimes sells broccoli burgers at Com Fest and a few other summer festivals.

Best fast food burger

While the variety of restaurants in the area offering veggie burgers as well as the armada of food trucks selling them, after a busy work day, sometimes it's best to eat quickly and go home. Columbus-based Graffiti Burger makes a veggie burger that is almost too good to call fast food.

The black bean veggie burger is studded with beets, giving it a medium rare beef color that could fool some carnivores. Toppings are fully customizable, allowing you to just about build your perfect burger.

Honorable mentions: Smashburger

14 May 2013

Young's Jersey Dairy

Young's Jersey Dairy is a family fun destination just outside of Yellow Springs. The main business enterprise is dairy produced from a herd of Jersey cows, but guests can also visit a farm with cows, goats and other animals, a gift shop, mini golf/batting cages called Udders & Putters, a dairy-themed hotel and more. There are numerous events and festivals held on the grounds.

The decor at the ice cream parlor is kitschy fun. It's a great environment to enjoy the diner fare and frozen desserts.

The flavors of ice cream are the standard issue choices available at most other shops. Ice cream is rich and sweet. There are cups, cones, shakes and sundaes available in a variety of sizes.

Cheeses from Young's are made with vegetable rennet. The curds are great in any flavor from garlic dill to habanero. 

Young's Jersey Dairy INC on Urbanspoon

08 May 2013

Ha Ha Pizza

Ha Ha Pizza in Yellow Springs is the sort of place that really has to be experienced to be believed. It is a natural fit on the now low-key Antioch College campus. But once you see the pizza box and a building with a pot-smoking Italian pizzaiolo caricature and a psychedelic jackalope, you know that you've found the place that you heard about so many times before.  

The restaurant is a little rough around the edges, like some of the hippie employees and some of the more colorful clientele. The pizza, though, will make you forget about your aversion to patchouli. 

There is a pretty solid salad bar at Ha Ha available by the trip or all-you-can-eat. It's always nice to eat something healthy before you stuff your face full of pizza.

The pizza is a medium thick hand tossed crust that achieves a delicate crisp that can perfectly support an army of toppings. The whole wheat crust adds an extra level of flavor to an already excellent base.

The sauce is sweet and clean, adding a fresh acidity to the pie along with a hint of garlic and basil. The pizza had an excellent level of toast that brought all the ingredients together.

There are a ton of other veggie-friendly options at Ha Ha, including falafel as an appetizer and in a calzone, as well as a few tofu dishes. The star attraction, of course, remains, the pizza.

Ha Ha Pizza on Urbanspoon

101 Beer Kitchen

101 Beer Kitchen is one of the latest concepts launched carrying the gastropub banner. The focus is on craft beer and comfort food made from local ingredients. 

The cavernous space hidden in a modern Dublin strip mall used to be a Hoggy's. The space is open and well appointed.

Diners can take a growler home of one of the 20 drafts. The brews are tasty, but might benefit from adding one or two more local handles. There is also an army of bottles. The sample prices encourage trying a variety of brews.

The menu has vegetarian starters, salads, sandwiches and entrees. The pizzas looked excellent. Most of the appetizers are a pretty natural pair with a cold brew. Pretzels and fried cheese, obviously, greatly augment the hedonistic properties of fermented beverages.

The fried cheese curds were lightly breaded with a hint of cornmeal. They were addictive. The soft pretzels, served with a beer cheese dip, had a pronounced caraway note. While they were well made, they pale in comparison to the pretzels from Matt the Miller's, which has two locations close to 101 Beer Kitchen.

The vegan burger patty was made with black beans, sweet potato and onions, topped with a vegan jalepeƱo cream, spinach and tomato and served on a whole grain bun.The beet chips were light and added a sweet, crispy contrast to the burger. 

The salted caramel pot de creme is a perfectly balanced yin and yang of sweet and salty. The salt crystals also added a delightful crunch to the dish.

Happy hour specials combined with appetizers make 101 Beer Kitchen an attractive draw. Service was even paced and friendly. The growler filled with water at each table is a cool way to keep water glasses full while reminding you of beer.

101 Beer Kitchen on Urbanspoon