31 December 2014

Grandpa's Cheese Barn

Wild horses couldn't drag me away from a business called Grandpa's Cheesebarn while driving north on I-71. Normal people could make a two hour drive to Cleveland without cheese curds. I can't. So I stopped at Grandpa's Cheesebarn off Route 250 in Ashland.

This family-run business has been open since 1978, with the original owner's family history in the Ohio dairy industry stretching back to the early 1900s. The shop is stacked to the ceiling with cheese from Ohio, house-label mustards, jams, jellies and breads. Most everything is available to sample.

There is a small lunch counter inside the Cheesebarn that makes sandwiches, soups, salads and milkshakes. Your sweet tooth can also be satisfied next door at Sweeties Jumbo Chocolates, which makes fudge, candies, nuts and other sweets.

The cheese is Ohio-produced, and much of it takes on classic styles - cheddar, gouda and Swiss (more properly, Emmental). Cheeses are dusted and studded with herbs and spices of all varieties.

Curds likewise come in an array of flavors. The grilling cheese, a domestic approximation of halloumi, was excellent.

Grandpa's Cheesebarn is adorable. It's worth a stop whether you're buying cheese to take home or simply satisfying a craving on a two-hour road trip.

Grandpa's Cheesebarn on Urbanspoon

10 December 2014

Momocho Mod Mex

Momocho Mod Mex puts the modern spin on Mexican cuisine in the heart of Ohio City. Chef-owner Eric Williams, a two-time James Beard nominee, operates a restaurant that's fun, festive and flavorful.

The menu is chock full of vegetarian dishes, including the ever-popular flavors of guacamole. There is an extensive gluten-free menu. The chef whips up guacamole with traditional ingredients, and offers variations loaded with fresh ingredients that put a spin on the classic dip. Current options include goat cheese and roasted poblano guacamole, and a jicama, pineapple, habanero and mint guacamole.

The decor is fun. The darkly lit venue is covered in black and white photos of luchadors and unnamed figures in a style akin to the Day of the Dead, as well as some amazing looking low-rider bicycles over the kitchen and the entrance.

Servers did a good job handling a large party. There were minor issues with pacing and handling explicit instructions from diners when business picked up. Service was pretty good if short of outstanding.

The taquitos at Momocho are nothing like the ones endlessly spinning under the hot lamp at your local gas station, or buried in the back of your college fridge. Fillings included roasted beets, spinach, spicy peanuts and queso fresco, or roasted butternut squash, goat cheese and salted pepitas, both served with a chunky pico de gallo. The ingredients change with the seasons.

The bar offers excellent margaritas in a different flavors and formulations with an excellent menu of tequila and mezcal. Beers are mostly Mexican with a domestic beer made in a Latin American pilsner style.

Momocho Mod Mex on Urbanspoon

26 November 2014

West Side Market

The West Side Market is the premiere market in Cleveland. Located in the Ohio City neighborhood, the 174-year-old market is a one-stop shop for culinary goods across the international spectrum.

Whether you are stocking your pantry or grabbing lunch, half of the adventure is exploring the offerings of the market's many vendors. If you can dream it, you can probably find it in the West Side Market.

The adventures in parking at the West Side Market share much in common with the North Market in Columbus. The parking lot of the West Side Market is a logjam at lunch and on weekends. It is usually easier to park in the neighborhood and walk to the market than it is to battle for a space in the poorly designed lot.

The open-air produce market is a visual illustration of capitalism in action with vendors shouting prices to customers, trying to outsell other vendors. 

International stalls represent the cuisines of Germany, Poland, Italy, France, Greece, the Mediterranean, China, Japan, Cambodia, Mexico and more. There is some overlap in the vendors, but each offers at least a few different things that set it apart from other vendors.

It is almost impossible to choose a place to eat dessert - or rather, to settle on only one. If you don't like what you see, keep walking and you'll find something. Cakes, pies, cookies and more should satisfy your sweet tooth.

The Ohio City location makes for quite a culinary tour destination. The West Side Market offers tours. The Great Lakes Brewery and Brew Pub are a short walk from the market, and Nano Brew is too. Some of Cleveland's top restaurants are also located in the neighborhood. It's easy to plan an afternoon and evening enjoying the foodie fun in Ohio City, starting with the West Side Market. 

15 November 2014


Jonathon Sawyer is one of the names keeping Cleveland on the culinary radar. His restaurants receive accolades from publications like Bon Appetit and Food & Wine magazine, and the chef has made appearances on Iron Chef on The Food Network. Noodlecat is the fusion ramen project from Team Sawyer. Since the restaurant is looking into opening a location in central Ohio, I decided to check out the West Side Market location and get a sneak preview while in Cleveland.

While ramen shops often offer little in the way of choices for meatless diners, Noodlecat has plenty of options for vegetarians and vegans. The menu is coded to mark vegetarian dishes. There are vegetarian ramen bowls, salads and meatless bao sandwiches. Vegan items had to be requested at the counter, but could be accommodated. The menu is a Yankee take on traditional Japanese noodle houses with a focus on local ingredients.

The smoked tomato coconut curry udon possessed notes that were both Japanese and Thai. The kombu broth suspended udon noodles, poached tofu, bamboo, scallions, potatoes and roasted sesame seeds. The understated base was mildly spicy, and the richness was a perfect vehicle for the wheat noodles and the crunchy veggies.

The veggie bao was stuffed with sprouts, mushrooms, cucumber, carrots, radishes and red onions. The soft roll had a nice coating of a sweet hoisin-like sauce. 

The sit-down restaurant has an expanded menu with more choices than the West Side Market stall. Both locations are worth checking out. I plan on frequenting the Columbus Noodlecat if and when it opens.

Noodlecat on Urbanspoon

08 November 2014

Cambridge Tea House

*Cambridge Tea House is an adorable spot to grab a spot of tea in Marble Cliff, alongside all the accompaniments that go well with the classic beverage of China/India/the U.K. The menu is replete with teas of all types, as well as soups, salads, sandwiches and baked goods.

As one would expect at a tea house, the age demographic skews on the old side. Service was relaxed and a little uneven due to a busy lunch crowd.

The decor is tastefully restrained. The colors, table cloths and curtains call back to yesterday. The exposed brick adds a nice touch to the interior.

The tomato bisque lived under a thin layer of Parmesan shavings. The flavor was bright with layers of basil and time showing through.

The veggie sandwich was served on a thinly sliced, eggy white bread. The bread was spread with lemon hummus, and then stacked with sliced carrots, cucumbers, sprouts, cucumbers and avocados. The variety of textures work well together, and fresh vegetables marry well with the citrus in the hummus.

The scones come in many flavors, and they look like the perfect accompaniment to a pot of tea. 

Cambridge Tea House on Urbanspoon

29 October 2014

Arepazo Latin Grill

Arepazo Latin Grill brings all of the things you love about the Downtown location of Columbus' global Latin favorite, and then they add tapas and a full bar. Carlos Gutierrez brings the same formula working at his Gahanna operation.

The space is open and inviting. It is much larger than the Downtown restaurant. There are plenty of options for vegetarians.

Like the other two locations, every dish tastes delicious smothered in the famous cilantro sauce. Dishes originate in Latin American countries in North and South America.

Vegetarians can order meatless arepas, patacons (a stuffed fried plantain boat), burritos, tostadas and three tapas for lunch. Dinner has a wider selection of meatless tapas options.

The bean and cheese empanada might be the best way to spend $3.75 eating in Columbus. The fried corn pocket is crammed full of black beans and white cheese until it's about the size of a small Nerf football. The appetizer is almost a lunch portion by itself.

A few of the vegetarian tapas involve perfect tostones, or fried plantain chips. Arepazo's tostones have a crispy exterior, but are thick enough to also display some of the fruit's softer textures. They are great served with a garlic aioli, and even better topped with roasted red peppers, parsley and slivers of Manchego.

Servers were able to answer questions about vegetarian items on the menu, and served multiple meals quickly enough to keep lunch crowds moving.

Arepazo Tapas Bar Grille on Urbanspoon

21 October 2014

Westies Gastropub

Westies Gastropub is a sleek spot on the south side of the Brewery District. It's a great place to catch a game with large high-def TVs lining the walls, and the kitchen turns out tasty comfort food classics that pair well with craft beer and cocktails.

Its location is a bit south of some people's normal Columbus travel radius. Hopefully they ignore the address, because plenty of great restaurants are found outside of the more high profile neighborhoods.

The restaurant focuses on local, organic ingredients. The bar has a great selection of local brews.

The menu has vegetarian starters, salads, sandwiches and pizzas. Some items, such as the potato and cheddar pierogi, can be prepared in a vegetarian manner by request. 

The grilled portabella mushroom, served on a grilled brioche bun, is prepared like a veggie burger. It is topped with pepperjack cheese, lettuce, tomato and chipotle mayo. The smoke flavors were nice, though the texture was slightly gummy.

Other vegetarian entrees include the grilled cheese and tomato sandwich and the vegetarian delight, which is grilled tofu with carrots, edamame, onions, brussel sprouts, slaw and arugula with a quinoa side salad. 

Westies Gastropub on Urbanspoon

17 October 2014

The Carvery

The Carvery is an Italian sandwich stop in Downtown Columbus that is a cut above the rest of the competition. A meal can be eaten quickly here, but the slow-food roots show in everything that comes out of the open kitchen.

There is one regular vegetarian sandwich on the menu, as well as a few meatless side dishes. Additional vegetarian sandwich make irregular appearances as specials.

The vegetarian sandwich, served on ciabatta, changes along with the seasonal produce. A recent visit saw the sandwich piled with beets, onions, mushrooms and goat cheese.

The pesto pasta salad was a nice side. Fresh basil and garlic take turns in the driver's seat, anchored by al dente bow tie pasta.

Counter staff capably answered all questions about dietary restrictions. Service is quick, and it can be even faster with call-ahead ordering.

In addition to fabulous bread, The Carvery also produces other delicious baked goods, many for dessert. Methods of satisfying your sweet tooth include giant chocolate chip cookies, butterscotch-chocolate brownies, chocolate chip cookie pie and shortbread cookies.

The Carvery Sandwich Craft on Urbanspoon

06 October 2014

Tatoheads Public House

Tatohead's Public House in Merion Village is the brick-and-mortar incarnation of the Tatohead's food truck. The menu is expanded but it still centers around potatoes and things mostly built on spuds.

The restaurant is located in the space that formerly housed Hal & Al's, a popular South Side vegan dive bar. A great deal of discussion was generated about how much of the new Tatohead's kitchen would continue to produce vegan items. While the menu is no longer exclusively vegan, there are vegan and vegetarian choices on the menu, and the staff accommodates most dietary restrictions.

The bar still focuses on craft beer. There are a few less beer taps than before, and a limited selection of bottles. Buckeye State breweries are well represented.

Some items have transitioned from Hal & Al's to the Tatohead's Public House menu. The vegan sauerkraut balls were on both menus, and the fried guacamole calls back to the fried avocados from the Hal's menu.

The standout appetizer, however, were the fried cheese curds. Made with lightly breaded Laurel Valley Creamery cheese curds served with horseradish ranch, these can be eaten like popcorn - very fatty popcorn. Eat a few order and get your daily allowance of cholesterol in one sitting.

The food truck choices of fries or tots in your choice of seasoning and sauce is available in a modified form in the restaurant. In addition, Sophie's pierogi can be piled with a variety of toppings. Vegetarian options include Mediterranean, with hummus, tzatziki, Sriracha, cilantro and tomato, and chili cheese, which can be made vegan with Daiya cheese.

There is also a veggie and vegan burger, served with fries. It can be customized with brioche or pretzel buns and choice of cheese, including vegan cheese.

The menu seems to undergo small changes at an irregular basis. It is still a work in progress.

The interior transition has been slow and steady. Fast food booths were tight and uncomfortable, with the bar high-tops and seats being far more agreeable. There are still a few couches. The latest decor updates included rock music themes with a potato references.

Prices are reasonable. There is real money saving potential that could be amplified by  happy hour drinks.

Tatohead's Public House on Urbanspoon

26 September 2014


Brazenhead is an Irish pub with an American menu of comfort food classics. Burgers, sandwiches, fried appetizers, soups and salads are paired with large-production craft beers and a few local taps.

The atmosphere is typical of an Irish American establishment. The bar is busy at happy hour. Bands play inside the bar area as well as on the patio some evenings.

There are multiple choices for vegetarian starters. Options include warm soft pretzel sticks, hummus, Greek fries, house-made potato chips and chili glazed cheese balls. The onion rings and pickles are breaded with Guinness, which contains isinglass, a fish gelatin. This is your vegetarian warning.

The pretzels are an addictive snack that can be eaten by the sackful. Though sometimes a little greasy, the piping hot starter tastes better with mustard and best with beer cheese dip.

The chips, which come standard with entrees as well as alone as an appetizer, are golden brown and delicate yet crispy. The subtle garlic dip adds creaminess and layers of flavor.

The vegan burger is a deconstructed take on the traditional veggie patty, made from eggplant, mushrooms, grains and onions. It is served on a brioche bun, topped with lettuce, tomato, sprouts, sliced avocado, balsamic vinegar and mustard.

The grilled cheese is slathered in Cabot cheddar pimento cheese and walnut pesto, with sprouts and pears making up the difference. The sandwich is served on nine grain bread.

Brazenhead Irish Pub on Urbanspoon

16 September 2014

India Oak

India Oak Grill is hidden on Oakland Park Avenue. The unassuming neighborhood pub makes delicious grilled submarine sandwiches declared, "The best in Clintonville."

For more than 40 years, India Oak has been located in the neighborhood in some form. It was originally called Hollies and found in the Huntington Bank spot on Indianola, Its current building used to be a car wash, and the take-out window is a relic from those days - it is not a drive-through.

The subs are made on toasted Auddino's sesame seed buns. They have a cheese sub and a veggie burger in addition to starters like the hummus platter.

The Cheesy Veggie Sub is topped with lettuce, tomato, onions, banana peppers, melted provolone and American cheese. The simple ingredients are simply perfect. It's a steal at $6.25.

The bar has a small selection of beer and liquor with some pretty reasonable happy hour rates. During happy hour, a beer and a sandwich cost about $10 or so, tip included. 

India-Oak Grill on Urbanspoon

11 September 2014

Vegetarian in Portland

There are cities where it is difficult to be a vegetarian. Portland, Oregon is not one of those cities. 

In many places, restaurants typically offer a few choices for vegetarian diners. There are a few restaurants that offer exclusively meatless or majority meatless menus. In Portland, most restaurants offer vegetarian and vegan diners an array of options, and exclusively vegetarian spots seem to be on just about every block.

There are options in different settings and price points, and there is something for just about everybody.

The destination dining options in Portland seem a little more affordable since there is no sales tax charged in the state of Oregon. It is an extra incentive to justify eating out at the highest rated spots - or any restaurant, really.

Some of the best high-end spots for vegetarians in Portland include:

- Ava Gene's: Portland's premiere Italian spot features a menu rooted in the Roman tradition with a focus on the local bounty of ingredients. The place is popular in Stumptown, but the national media have also caught on: Ava Gene's was named the No. 5 new restaurant of 2013 by Bon Appetit.

- Andina: The Peruvian tapas restaurant offers an excellent selection of authentic vegan and vegetarian dishes in the Pearl District. 

- The Veritable Quandary: This Downtown spot is Portland's dining Grande Dame. The menu is a nice mix of Pacific Northwest with an international flair.

- Toro Bravo: The top destination for tapas in Portland is the swinging Toro Bravo. It is Spanish in much the same way that Olive Garden is authentic Italian; however, the capable kitchen puts spins on dishes that make it easy to overlook the elements that merely share a framework with the country that inspires them.

Not every restaurant in Portland is priced to clean out your bank account. There are plenty of affordable locations that offer a lot of bang for the buck.

- Pine State Biscuits: The popular breakfast spot makes damn fine biscuits, of course, as well as many other items rooted in the Southern tradition. There are two restaurants, and they also offer their wares at the Portland Farmers Market.

- Whiskey Soda Lounge and Sen Yai: Sure, you have heard of Pok Pok. Andy Ricker's tribute to all things Thai has locations in other cities (one is in NYC,  and Ricker will soon open two in LA). Whiskey Soda Lounge, his Thai drinking food restaurant, and Sen Yai, his noodle shop, are also located in Portland. 

- Clyde Common: The modern gastropub is found in the sleek Ace Hotel Downtown. The hotel is an attraction in its own right, but Clyde Common seems to be the most exciting place to grab a bite there.

- ¿Por Que No?: The festive Mexico-by-way-of-Portland taqueria has lines down the street waiting to sample its wares. It's difficult to tell if they are there for the tacos or the margaritas, so you probably should order both. 

- Lardo: This Italian sandwich shop goes above and beyond your typical deli. There is lots of pig on the menu, but the veggie burger should keep the meatless crowd satisfied.

A city with a reputation for quality produce and hippie vibes is bound to be full of world class vegetarian restaurants. Here are a couple of the main attractions.

- Tin Shed Garden Cafe: This is not a completely vegetarian restaurant, but the organic menu is about two-thirds vegetarian and features many vegan dishes. This restaurant is much of the classic throwback wholesome West Coast variety, and it's open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

- Harlow: Harlow is Portland's haute vegan/vegetarian spot, featuring dishes with local ingredients for meatless/animal product-free diners, as well as a nice selection of gluten free items. The cafe, Prasad, is more inexpensive and less formal.  

- The Sudra: This new vegan spot prepares international takes on Indian fare with some great happy hour specials to boot. It might not be the most authentic Indian restaurant, but luckily the kitchen kicks out food so flavorful that nobody will miss the animal products.

Portland is also a city on the cutting edge of mobile cuisine. Food trucks are incorporated into large blocks of the city, whipping up cuisine from all corner of the globe. An interesting vacation could be planned simply eating food served from wheeled kitchens. These are some interesting stops.

- Big Ass Sandwiches: These sandwiches, served on fresh-baked local bread and piled high with French fries and bechamel sauce, were featured on Man vs. Food and Best Sandwich in America on the Travel Channel. Why simply order fries when you can cover them in creamy sauce and eat them between two slices of bread?

- Koi Fusion: This truck fleet is riding the wave of Korean-Mexican fusion, putting Korean spins on tacos, burritos, quesadillas, sliders and rice bowls. The kimchi contains fish sauce, but there are still enough dishes made with spicy tofu to create an authentic vegetarian dish rooted in the culinary tradition of two continents.

- PBJ's: The gourmet spins on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches don't look anything like the brown bag lunch staple of school lunch rooms. There are menu selections built on challah, Oregon nut butters, house made jellies and other local ingredients as well as a build-your-own sandwich option. 

- Potato Champion: There are plenty of things you can put on fries, and Potato Champion does. Hand cut, twice fried Belgian fries come with a variety of sauces. There is vegetarian and vegan poutine, as well as fries topped with satay and palak paneer. 

Kargi Gogo: Georgia is a country at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. Dishes share characteristics with Eastern Europe, but are rooted in Asian tradition. The khachapuri, soft, layered, pita-like bread stuffed with a tart, mild melted cheese, can and should be eaten by the truckload.

- Emame's Ethiopian Cuisine: Ethiopian cuisine has lots of options for vegetarians, many of which can be scooped up with the pancake-like injera bread. The mesir wat is red lentils cooked with spices including garlic, ginger, paprika and cardamom, as well as tomatoes and onions. The sambusas, the cousin of the Indian samosa, is a good buy because it's about the size of a softball.

04 September 2014

Portland sweets

Portland is a city full of world class dining options. But its reputation is built on the backs of the artists that produce sweets in the Rose City as much as it on their savory counterparts.

Donuts may be the sweet that gets Portland the most attention. Almost everybody has heard of Voodoo Doughnut, the quirky shop that whips up breakfast pastries adorned with a Willy Wonka avalanche of candy and breakfast cereal. If you haven't, Google Kenneth "Cat Daddy" Pogson and Tres Shannon's shop - just about everybody has been there.

The house donut is the Voodoo Doughnut, a vegan anthropomorphic jelly-filled pastry complete with a pretzel pin to jab into its heart. About one third of the donuts are vegan, and they are marked on the shelves and on the menu boards.

A pink box of donuts is a great conversation starter. The $110 coffin full of donuts is even better.

Voodoo Doughnut Too on Urbanspoon

Those who find Voodoo Doughnut too whimsical might find Blue Star Donuts more up their alley. Blue Star is haute where Voodoo is hilarious.

These donuts, which also have received a great deal of media coverage, are made for grown ups, with bourbon and Cointreau as two of the boozier ingredients. Blue Star features coffee from local stalwart Stumptown Coffee Roasters.

The can't-miss choice is the blueberry bourbon basil glazed donut. It is sweet, smoky and mildly herbaceous in the most addictive way possible.

Blue Star Donuts on Urbanspoon

If you are more in the mood for frozen dessert, Salt and Straw is worth a stop. There are multiple locations of the shop throughout the city.

Columbus residents are familiar with adventurous ice cream flavors from local star Jeni's. Salt and Straw takes the modern approach into the next gear with choices including bone marrow, green fennel with maple and pear with blue cheese.

The off kilter combos work. The honey balsamic strawberry with cracked pepper sounds like a salad, but tastes like a revelation. The sweetness of the fruit is brightened by the acidity of the vinegar, and the pepper adds a subtle spice that fades delicately on the finish.

Some of the flavors might be too bizarre for a full scoop. But samples allow you the chance to try any ice cream, no matter what crazy ingredients are used. You might even like it.

Salt & Straw on Urbanspoon

I only visited Portland for a short time. There were more great looking places to satisfy a sweet tooth than there were hours in the day.

Some other spots for sweets: Quin Candy Company. fancy candy with local ingredients. It looks good for all ages.

Cacao was a cool looking spot with artisan hot chocolate. Chocolates come from local producers and are sourced from international markets. It must draw people like a magnet when the temperature drops.

There were more fantastic bakeries than I could possible name. Highlights included Sweedeedee, St. Honore, The Sugar Cube and Roman Candle.

02 September 2014

Apizza Scholls

Apizza Scholls is the place that put pizza in Portland on the map. Featured on No Reservations and named to best-of lists like Food & Wine Magazine's best pizza places in the U.S., the wood-fired pies from Brian Spangler's shop are worthy of the hype.

There are plenty of seats in Apizza Scholls, which occupies two storefronts, but reservations are still a good idea. Business at the restaurant stops when they run out of the dough that was made for the day.

The pizza is a little bit of a hybrid between New York thin crust and New Haven style. The 900-degree oven deliciously scorches the exterior of the crust, but it gives the interior a delightful chew. 

The menu offers up many classics, rooted in the bounty of local ingredients. Service was friendly and evenly paced.

 The Dirty Pizza was a special. It is a plain cheese pizza dusted with fresh parmesan and herbs including oregano, basil, rosemary and sage. It was topped with heirloom tomatoes after the bake. The fresh ingredients delivered on a soft, almost buttery crust were a perfect expression of the summer.

The Margherita added mozzarella to the cheese base, and ribbons of fresh basil and slivers of roasted garlic were sliced across the surface of the pie. It was an understated, nearly flawless take on the original.

It is a good idea to grab a few appetizers to make waiting for pizza go by with fewer hunger pangs. The salads and antipasti are popular choices.

The wine and beer lists rely heavily on Oregon producers. With pizza this artful, it's a tough call which beverage would be the better pairing.

Apizza Scholls on Urbanspoon

27 August 2014

Pok Pok

Pok Pok is one of the most interesting Thai restaurants in the United States. With locations in Portland and New York City, James Beard Award-winning chef Andy Ricker scours the Thai countryside for explosively flavorful dishes that are deeply authentic.

Ricker has a high profile. Recent media appearances include being a judge on Beat Bobby Flay and a full length documentary from Vice. His passion for the cuisine of Thailand is evident in every plate he serves.

A place with this much publicity obviously can generate a little bit of a wait for diners. Reservations are not accepted for parties smaller than 6. Luckily, the Whiskey Soda Lounge, Ricker's Thai bar food spot, is located across the street. It is a great place to grab a cocktail during the inevitable wait. The reservation systems were connected, and the bartenders are able to tell you when your reservation has been called from across the street. The text message system can also alert you via phone. Try not to fill up on the delicious looking menu at Whiskey Soda Lounge before venturing back for the main attraction.

The atmosphere of the restaurant changes depending on your location. Some areas are vibrant, while others seemed more restrained. Service was excellent. The menu is marked for vegetarians, but staff can make additional recommendations when needed.

If the menu lists an item as spicy, believe it. The heat on the papaya salad (papaya pok pok, the house dish) creeps, going from a subtle wisp of chili to a full blown inferno in a matter of three to five bites. The texture of unripe papaya gives the dish a meaty chew, and the flavors alternate with layers of lime, tamarind and peanuts. 

The het paa nom tok is a forest mushroom salad dressed with soy sauce, lime and chili. The mushrooms were thinly sliced, and the dish showcased the essence of black pepper, cilantro and sweet smoke.

Cocktails were outstanding. The apple gin Rickey was made with the Pok Pok Som apple drinking vinegar, which gave the drink a bright acidity to contrast the herbaceous gin. 

Pok Pok on Urbanspoon

22 August 2014

Tasty N Sons

Tasty N Sons is the cousin of the popular Toro Bravo restaurant. There are two locations, the second being Tasty N Alder. Tasty N Sons is located in the Boise neighborhood.

Almost every restaurant in Portland offers some form of brunch. Brunch is almost its own regional culinary tradition with religious significance. But Tasty N Sons really could be the best brunch in the city.

There are classic breakfast options with local spins. The menu also has Spanish options in the style of Toro Bravo with small plates to match. 

The potatoes bravas were saucier than the most rigid interpretation of the classic dish. Despite the modern spin, it was a different take on a breakfast potato dish that is good enough to fight over if it's being shared.

The sweet biscuits were dusted in powdered sugar and served with Oregon blueberries and marionberries. The buttery biscuit pairs fantastically with fruit and cream.

The fried green tomatoes were thinly sliced and dusted with a flawless panko crust. It was served with a bright remoulade.

The staff easily handled all vegetarian and vegan dining concerns, even offering modified versions of dishes to conform to dietary requirements. Service was friendly, fun and well paced.

Tasty N Sons has a full bar, and there were classic brunch drinks like the bloody Mary and mimosas, as well as other riffs on other classic cocktails. The wine list has some great selections, and it offers a nice range of options.

Tasty n Sons on Urbanspoon

20 August 2014

Rogue Distillery and Public House

Oregon is a brewing wonderland, and Portland may well be at the heart of it all. The city, called Beervana by brew-loving visitors, is home to a number of high-profile breweries. The brewery that put the Beaver State on the map, though, is Rogue. The Newport brewer has a brew pub in Portland, and it is a great spot to sample the off-the-radar offerings that fit the slogan, "Dedicated to the rogue in each of us."

Sure, you can get Rogue ales in almost a reputable liquor store in any state in America. However, there are plenty of barrel-aged and otherwise unavailable brews at the Public House that make it worth seeking out. Rogue was one of the United States' first breweries to make spirits, which can also be sampled here.

The food, for the most part, was run-of-the-mill brew pub fare. Dishes had a nice focus on Pacific Northwest ingredients. An apt description would be forgettable pub grub. 

But why go for the food? Delicious food can be found all over Portland. Go here for the brews.

Four sample size brews cost $6.50. It is a good way to sample the catalog. Interesting choices on my visit included the marionberry braggot, six different pale ales (Juniper pale, 200 Meter IPA, XSIPA, and the cask aged Imperial IPA being most interesting), cask aged Imperial stout and Beard Beer, a wild ale. 

Designated drivers and the little ones in the back seat can enjoy Rogue root beer and sodas, which come in flavors like cucumber citrus.

Rogue Distillery & Public House on Urbanspoon

14 August 2014


Tucked in an unmarked space across the street from Beast, Expatriate is a speakeasy small plates spot in Northeast Portland. Cocktails that riff on the classics are mixed skillfully by Kyle Linden Webster, and they pair with small plates by Mrs. Linden Webster, a.k.a. Naomi Pomeroy of Top Chef Masters/James Beard Award fame. 

The space is dark with a stylish minimalist vibe. The mood can vary based upon the flavor of vinyl that the proprietor spins from his vault.

Every drink has a story. The old school drinks explain their origin, noting the inspiration. The Infante, named after Mexican idol Pedro Infante, mixes Pueblo Viejo tequila blanca, fresh lime juice, fresh orgeat and local honey. It is dusted with fresh grated nutmeg, and the spectacular ice cools the drink beautifully.

The Royal Hawaiian contrasts a spicy gin base accented with bitters and citrus juices. It is named for a hotel opened in the 1920s influenced by the work of Rudolph Valentino.

The food is every bit as interesting as the drinks. While there are only a few vegetarian options on the menu, everything was perfect paired with the cocktails. 

I will crave the James Beard tea sandwich until my dying day. Crustless white egg bread is layered with cold butter, parsley, thinly sliced white onions and crunchy grey sea salt. Imagine the most delicious cucumber sandwich and elevate it. 

The hot and sour Indian curry fries are liberally dusted in a makeshift garam masala, and served with cilantro raita, curry ketchup and sumac ranch. The hints of sweetness temper the spiciness, and the creamy condiments add another layer of richness to the gourmet bar snack.

Epatriate has popped up on the radar in many important places, including being nominated as one of Bon Appetit's 50 Best New Restaurants of 2014. It is a fun experience, less serious than Beast across the street. Neither Beast nor Expatriate should be missed, though Expatriate's menu seems more vegetarian friendly. 

Expatriate on Urbanspoon

30 July 2014

The Sycamore

The Sycamore in German Village is the first new concept from the folks behind the popular Harvest Pizzeria. They turned the former Sycamore Cafe, a grungy dive bar in the heart of the neighborhood, into a stylish hang-out with a killer kitchen.

Rather than pizzas, The Sycamore offers pub fare that pairs nicely with the classic cocktails and reasonably interesting wine and beer lists. There is a small selection of vegetarian items on the menu, but most of the options are delicious.

The veggie burger, in particular, was a standout. The patty was quinoa, chickpeas, carrots and greens, topped with grilled mushrooms and onions with white cheddar, lettuce, tomato, mustard and house-cured spicy pickles with a subtle bite. The patty crumbles easily, but it delivers layers of flavor. The garlic and herb-tossed fries are great, and the malt vinegar aioli adds a rich, sweet accent to them.

The guacamole, on the other hand, added little to the Mexican staple. The chips were greasy, and the dip needed more avocado and cilantro and less radish and tomato.

Other vegetarian menu items include papas rajas and wild mushroom tacos and a mixed grilled vegetable plate.

The wine list skews heavily toward the New World. There are excellent beers by the bottle and on draft with a number of local choices.

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23 July 2014


Challah is a regular participant in the Food Truck Food Court at the Columbus Commons, and it pops up regularly at other spots around town. The ladies behind Challah prepare fresh comfort food rooted in Jewish cuisine, particularly the kind from Eastern Europe.

There isn't a ton of options available for vegetarians from Challah, but there is a meatless sandwich and side dish on the menu. The bread is good enough to make sandwiches a must-have from the truck.

There were differences in the bread for the tomato sandwich on separate visits. The interior with heirloom tomatoes, Emmental cheese, endive and mayonnaise is a perfect marriage of ingredients for a summer sandwich. The sweetness of the tomatoes amplifies the richness of the cheese and the spice in the greens in perfect synergy.

The latkes, served with sour cream or apple sauce, are made with thin ribbons of potato. It is a superior side to the somewhat ordinary cole slaw.

The cart handled a high volume of business well with minor timing flaws. Staff capably handled vegetarian questions and fixed all service issues. 

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16 July 2014

Rishi Sushi

Rishi Sushi is the latest concept from David and Song Kim, who also own Moshi Sushi in Bexley. Rather than a straight down the middle sushi bar, Rishi is more of a small plates concept with interesting fusion dishes with one foot in Japan.

The restaurant has a focus on fresh, local ingredients. There are vegetarian and gluten free items identified on the menus. 

The sushi menu has pretty standard vegetarian offerings. In addition to meatless starters and salads, there is a veggie burger and a couple of generous vegetarian ramen bowls.

The edamame hummus is plated with cucumber, carrots and rice crackers. The dish creates a subtle harmony between the essence of Asia and the spirit of the Mediterranean.

While sushi is featured in the restaurant's name, the ramen is a real star. Bowls are piled with a vegetable broth, fresh ramen noodles, edamame, corn, scallions, shiitake mushrooms, bean sprouts, spinach, bok choy and seaweed. While the Lazy Summer Day is deeply satisfying, masochists can also inflict the Good Luck Ramen challenge, made with scorpion peppers, upon themselves.

The bar has excellent cocktails and a decent beer and wine selection to accompany the food coming out of the kitchen. There is a happy hour menu with sushi, small plates and drink specials. 

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09 July 2014

AJ's Cafe

AJ's Cafe is a fast-casual spot Downtown that offers soup, salads and sandwiches. It is located in the spot that formerly held C-Town Market and Deli.

The owner, Ajay Kumar, owned the Taj Mahal on campus. It was sold to relatives and reopened as Mughal Darbar. While Kumar didn't bring the menu with him from his old restaurant, he definitely brought the Indian flavor profile to a number of the dishes at AJ's.

There are many vegetarian and vegan dishes on the menu. The restaurant is open Monday through Friday for breakfast and lunch, and Saturday for lunch.

Soups include an outstanding vegan lentil and spinach, as well as broccoli cheese. There is a vegetarian green salad and a vegan lentil salad. There are a variety of baked goods in the morning as well as a vegan breakfast wrap.

The spiced chickpea wrap hints at dal makhani, and the tamarind chutney adds another layer of sweet Indian flavor. It makes a filling lunch with a side dish.

Prices at AJ's are reasonable, and service is quick. It is another strong option for the Downtown dining landscape.

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25 June 2014

La Tavola

La Tavola resurrects an old name run by area favorite Rick Lopez. Lopez had a hand in Columbus' original haute Mexican outpost Tapatio, the old Polynesian-themed Kahiki and the fast-casual and (temporarily) closed Knead. La Tavola was open from 1999 to the late 2000s in Powell and Dublin. The new restaurant is on 1st Avenue in Grandview.

House made and seasonal items make up the backbone of the menu. There are not a tremendous number of vegetarian items on the menu. There is a vegan pizza. The server checked with the kitchen on specific vegetarian concerns. 

The space is open, and the decor is warm and inviting. The ironic wall paper also doubles as the background on the restaurant website. 

The pasta was magnificent. The strozzapretti, a loose, eggless pasta twirled into a tight, lengthy s-shape, was bathed in kale pesto, mushroom, green beans, yellow pepper and shallots.

The bar had a small but well chosen selection of draft beer. There are also sodas from Boylan's and Grown Up, as well as Brioso coffee.

Desserts are prepared by Krista Lopez. There is bound to be something to like on the list of Italian sweets which go from tiramisu to gelato and semifreddo.

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18 June 2014

Hudson 29

Hudson 29 is the latest Cameron Mitchell concept, and the first one opened this year in Upper Arlington on Lane Avenue. The kitchen produces classic steakhouse fare and sandwiches paired with sushi and flatbread pizza.

The menu has a couple of vegetarian options, and the staff dealt well with questions about dietary restrictions. Service at the restaurant, however, was uneven beyond that. 

While one lunch visit in a nearly empty restaurant saw attentive service and great attention to detail, a second night visit was severely overbooked on reservations. My reservation seating was 90 minutes late, and while the front of house offered free cocktails because of the delay, it did not make up for the continued service issues in the dining room. The server never brought water to the table despite numerous requests. Other orders were delivered incorrectly. It would be kind to say the experience was a disappointment.

The food was from chef Jonathan Basch was very good despite the hemorrhaging service flaws. The veggie burger, in particular, was a standout. The house made black bean patty was topped with pepper jack, avocado, lettuce, tomato, red onion and sweet pickle mayo. It was served on a toasted bun.

The cheesy bread rolls are a worthwhile expense. The arugula salad was forgettable.

The vegetable flatbread was piled with arugula pesto, shiitake mushrooms, kalamata olives, pickled red onions and fresh arugula. The flavor is a nice blend of savory, salty and fresh vegetable notes that play together nicely with  subtle garlic.

The wine list is heavy on New World labels with some fun choices. There are limited brews with Rockmill carrying the local banner. Cocktails were a nice mix of classics with a few more modern spins.

The dining room and sushi bar are sleek and modern with a nice organic warmth. The couches in the waiting area by the fireplace create an inviting place to relax while waiting for a table.

An inviting space and a few tasty morsels from the kitchen, however, will not be enough to save the place if the front of house is unable to control its reservations book. Improvements in execution will be needed if the restaurant concept is to be duplicated successfully.

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