Monthly Archives: March 2009

Restaurant News 3/6/09

In openings, hot on the heels of the success of places like the new Five Guys Burgers up at Polaris comes Burger Boys, which opened this week at 3650 E. Main Street in Whitehall. The menu offers several variations of interesting burgers, with free fries with the signature burgers being one of the draws.

Jason’s Deli opened March 2nd in Dublin, at 225 W. Bridge Street. This Texas-based chain, new to Ohio, offers sandwiches, soups and more.

Joining the ranks of fine dining establishments embracing the “small plates” and “bistro” concepts, Handke’s Cuisine has reopened the bistro area of the restaurant with the name of “encore”. “encore” offers small plates at a reasonable price in a less formal setting than Handke’s proper. It’s located in the Brewery District at the upstairs of the same building at 520 S. Front Street, and is open from 4pm-2:30am (the kitchen closes at 11pm) Monday through Saturday.

Also offering a new bistro-style menu is Short North fine dining restaurant Rosendale’s, who launched their “Comfort Series” this past week. The menu will be posted by noon daily (it changes from day to day), and will offer 3 courses for $30, 4 courses for $40, with an option to complement your meal with a carafe of wine for an additional $10. This menu is only offered Monday through Thursdays, and you’ll need to call to make reservations once the menu is posted at noon.

In closings, Arlington Pizza and Meatballs has closed as of last Friday, another victim of the economy, according to a neighbor of the business.  This was almost immediately on the heels of the closure of building-mate Dino’s Cappucinos, who closed in late January. A hard to find location may have been a contributing factor.

You all are probably getting sick of hearing me talk about Restaurant Week, and how excited I am about it. So I’m going to bring this issue up in an area that doesn’t talk about Restaurant Week directly, but restaurant news in general, just to get a gauge on how you all feel about this.

There was an article in The Other Paper a couple of days ago about how one Wayne T. Lewis, publisher of UWeekly and (the as of yet to print an actual issue) 614 Magazine, taking umbrage at Dine Originals Columbus’ use of the phrase “Restaurant Week Columbus”.

To just give a little history, there technically has been a Restaurant Week in Columbus before, put on by CORA (Central Ohio Restaurant Association) back in 2002. Current CORA president Liz Lessner was thrilled when Dine Originals Columbus wanted to resurrect the concept – a concept which, by the way, seems to be an industry standard and is done all over the country. So everything is good and everybody wins, right? The restaurants get customers in the seats, the customers get some really good fixed price meals, and everyone is happy.

Not so fast. Apparently the media group Lewis runs decided to up and trademark “Columbus Restaurant Week” back in January, and now is trying to shake down Dine Originals over their use of the name. He says that “614 Magazine’s event plans were ‘on a scale far beyond anything contemplated by your event””, and has basically accused Dine Originals of stealing his idea – an idea that has already been done in this city by the trade group that most of the major restaurateurs belong to.

Now, before I go into rant mode, let me just state the obvious. Dude, you’ve just alienated 42 of the independent restaurants and countless other restaurants that belong to CORA. Who the heck are you going to get to participate in 614’s idea of Restaurant Week? Seriously? I’m almost curious to see how this all plays out to see how much of a joke his event ends up being, especially given the ill-will and animosity he’s generated among the very people whose help he would need to execute it.

As a person who is supportive of both Dine Originals Columbus and CORA, I’m siding with them on this matter. Here’s a media group that is not only trying to profit on an idea that belongs to the restaurant industry at large, but is also trying to cast a rainy cloud over an event that people should be happy about. If anything, this has left an extremely bad taste in my mouth about both Lewis and 614 Magazine and guarantees that I will never buy an issue or attend an event they are affiliated with.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the matter.

T Minus 3 Days – Restaurant Week 2009

Well, it seems that most of the menus are up on the Columbus Dine Originals site are up, and what that means for me is that I’ve finalized my reservations for next week. I’ve made the earliest reservations possible on most nights, and I’m planning on doing some live twittering along with a write-up at the end of the evening of my eats for the day (so that if it looks good to you, you might also have a chance to go before Restaurant Week ends).

So, without further delay, here’s where I’m going and why (not to say that all of the restaurants aren’t worthy – it’s just that there’s only one of me and only 7 days in a week – otherwise I’d be hitting all 42, LOL). If you haven’t already made your reservations for next week, make sure you do so soon – you really don’t want to miss out!

Click on the restaurant names to see the menus for yourself.

– Dinner on Monday will be at G. Michael’s. They’re offering three courses for $30 (with three choices for each course), and I’ve already got my picks mapped out. For the first course, one of the choices is a seared jumbo scallop with Grand Marnier scented roasted beets and chive cream sauce. I still haven’t decided between the chorizo-stuffed, bacon wrapped short ribs (mmm, bacon…) and the Pan-Roasted Cobia with brie-encriched risotto (mmm, cheese…) for my main. And I love, love, love creme brulee, so I’m sold. 🙂

– On Tuesday, it’s off to Rigsby’s. They are offering a 3-course plus wine priced fixed menu for $29.99. Wine and dinner for less than $30? I’m so there. What sold me on this one is the promise of Potato Gnocchi with Elysian Fields Lamb Ragout.

– Wednesday, we’re going to Alana’s, which is probably the menu I’m most looking forward to, because Alana + risotto = brilliance. And guess what? One of the offerings for the main course is risotto. Also looking forward to see what soup she comes up with, and dying to taste the Mexican Chocolate Pecan Tart with Salty Caramel Ice Cream.

– On Thursday, I get to try a new to me restaurant, Due Amici. This is a restaurant I’ve been wanting to try for a while, and the Lobster Gnocchi as a main makes this one a no-brainer for me. They are offering 3 courses for $30.

– Friday brings us to another new (to us) restaurant, L’Antibes. They bucked the $15 or $30 trend a bit by charging $35 for three courses, but I couldn’t resist the call of Duck Breast with Duck Cracklings, Raspberry-Cassis Sauce and Celeriac Gratin.

– On Saturday, it’s off to our favorite steak house in town, The Top, for their 3 course for $30 menu. I don’t need an excuse to eat their delicious French Onion Soup, so it’s a good thing it’s one of the choices for starter. Followed up with Prime Rib and Creme Brulee, and I’m fat and happy.

– To close out the week, on Sunday, we’re going to Barcelona, where Executive Chef Paul Yow has created a multi-course (7 courses) Tapas Tasting Menu for $30 per person, including a glass of Sangria. The items on the menu will change nightly, so I’m looking forward to seeing what he comes up with. And this is one of the few that doesn’t require reservations.

Of course, we’re still hitting a few other places for lunches or snacks during the week, including Surly Girl ($15 per person, gives you your choice of 3 courses, with two choices available per course, no reservations required), and Cafe Corner (any two menu items including all day breakfast offerings with two complimentary desserts for $15), and Katzinger’s (offering the Flight of the Corned Beefs, where two people will receive 3 distinctively different corned beef mini sandwiches, a small side of classic potato salad and a homemade brownie for $15). And maybe in one of the most creative choices, Pistacia Vera is offering A Taste of Pistacia Vera, a sampling of their house favorites for two for $15).

So now I’d like to know – what are your plans for Restaurant Week? Which restaurants are you going to, and why?

Review: Pita Hut ‘n Grille

To be honest, I really don’t remember who turned me on to Pita Hut ‘n Grille – it may have been one of the other food bloggers (Lisa or Rosie, perhaps?), it may have been a mention on Columbus Underground, it may have just been word of mouth. All I know for sure is that I’ve been coming here for a while now, and that it’s the darling of food lovers all over town for good reason. And I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t review it. I mean, if it’s good enough that I come here at least once a week, then it’s something I should be sharing with you lot, right? But the truth of the matter of why I hadn’t gotten around to reviewing it yet is much more mundane than that – yesterday was the first time I had actually dined in rather than just stopped by for takeout. We took my mother with us to try it and she chided me for holding out on her.

I’ll just put it out there. If you haven’t been here yet, you *must* go. Even if you’re a vegetarian. Especially if you’re a vegetarian, which I’ll explain further in a little bit.

It’s located in a rather non-descript row of storefronts on High Street, in between Graceland and Morse Rd. Sandwiched between Bob’s Bar, the “cultural hub of the Midwest” and a little carryout shop, it’s one of those “blink and you’ll miss it” locales. However, once you know it’s there, you can’t drive by it without being beckoned by the shawarma goodness that you know is inside. Even when I don’t have plans of stopping there, somehow my car is on autopilot and before I know it, I’m turning into the parking lot.

Inside, the decor is dated, but very, very clean. Spotless, even. Your eyes are immediately drawn to the left, where the shawarma beckons on its vertical spit. Layers of beef, and lamb and turkey are stacked and weighted down, and turn slowly throughout the day cooked by the infrared burners surrounding it.

Pita Hut 'n Grille Schwarma

A lot of people like to compare the shawarma to gyros, but the truth is, there’s a world of difference. Where gyro meat is chopped and formed, this is whole slices of meat in its natural state, with the resulting juices basting the meat beneath as it cooks, and slowly adding flavor that intensifies throughout the day.

If you get the shawarma, you can opt to have it as a sandwich ($4.99, fries are an additional .99) or a platter that includes 2 sides ($7.99). My husband and mother both opted for the platter, which they paired with what we all consider the best hummus in town and a very fresh, summery tasting tabbouleh salad, whose herby notes are tempered by just the right amount of lemon.

Pita Hut 'n Grille Schwarma Platter

If hummus or tabbouleh isn’t your thing, they offer tons of different options, all of which are vegetarian. Among your choices are a cauliflower based salad (with mushrooms, olives, peppers and onions) which has nutty and vinegary notes, and a salad that sort of reminds of a Middle Eastern salsa with tomatoes, onions, cucumber and parsley.

Pita Hut 'n Grille Salads

Other salads include this eggplant, mushroom and olive salad, which unfortunately, I haven’t tried yet. Also in the cold case you see some of the topping options for the sandwiches, like pickles, cabbage, and onions.

Pita Hut 'n Grille Salads 2

To round out the cold case, there’s an amazing buttery garlic condiment, decent cole slaw and potato salad, a so-so baba ganoush, chickpeas, tahina sauce, and hot sauce. It amazes me how organized their cold case is – notice how all the spoons are facing the same direction. Everything looks (and tastes) extremely fresh and the pride the employees take in their job shows. Quality control on all their offerings is impeccable. And if you’re not sure about an item? Ask for a sample, and they’re more than happy to give you a taste.

Pita Hut 'n Grille Salads 3

BTW, excuse the glare from the floor tiles in the pics of the cold case items. It goes to show how clean the glass is, if it’s throwing off that kind of reflection.

One of my favorite items at Pita Hut is their falafel, which is an absolute steal at 6 for $1. I opt for their falafel sandwich ($3.49) as often as I do for their meat-based sandwiches, which is saying a lot considering how much I love meat.

Pita Hut 'n Grille Falafel

Also excellent, although not vegetarian, is their kibbeh ($2), which is flavorful ground meat and pine nuts wrapped in a meat and bulghur wheat shell and then deep fried to crispiness. Paired with the tahina it’s served with, it makes for an excellent appetizer.

Pita Hut 'n Grille Kibbeh

On this trip, however, I opted for the shawarma sandwich, in which a soft pita is sliced open at the top only, filled with a generous schmear of hummus, followed by meat, and various condiments. I usually get it “with everything”, which means hummus, tomato/cucumber/onion, pickles, and tahina. Hot sauce (2 different types) is available on request.

Pita Hut 'n Grille Schwarma Sandwich and Fries

This is a sandwich that only gets better as you eat it, as the juices from the meat mix with everything at the bottom of the sandwich, culminating in a flavor bomb that will having you licking your fingers. These sandwiches are downright addictive. Even the fries are great. This is where I first had fries sprinkled with seasoned salt, and it’s now my standard way of eating fries.

On other trips I’ve also had the mixed grill and/or kofta, which come highly recommended. I don’t think I’ve ever really had anything *bad* here, come to think of it.

Long hours (they’re open to 11pm or later every night) mean that unless they run out (which has happened occasionally), you can get your fix pretty much whenever it hits. But don’t take my word for it, find out for yourself why Pita Hut ‘n Grille is one of Columbus’ hidden gems. With plenty to offer omnivores and vegetarians alike, this is one choice that’s bound to please just about everyone.

ETA: As Rosie so kindly reminded me below, if you’re getting at least 2 sandwiches, make sure you use the coupon which will give you a third one free. Here’s the link: Pita Hut Coupon

If you’d like to go: Pita Hut ‘n Grille, 4965 N. High Street, Columbus, OH 43214, 614.433.0996

Pita Hut Grille on Urbanspoon

Review: Maca Cafe

I’d like to think that when it comes to good food, I’m willing to travel. I don’t have to think twice about driving 20 or 40 miles away to eat a good meal. Having said that, I still don’t get out to some of the more outlying suburbs (like Powell, Canal Winchester, etc.) as often as I’d like. But if I’m up at Polaris or the Sawmill Rd. area on an errand anyway, making the side trip to Powell is almost a given.

So even though Maca Cafe has been on our list of places to try for quite a while ago, it wasn’t until last weekend that I actually had the impetus to go. Since we approached it from Liberty Street rather than from the way we usually do (on Olentangy St.), we easily found parking behind the restaurant.

The restaurant was almost empty when we went (as is to be expected on a Saturday mid-afternoon), so the owner directed us to pick a seat in the cozy front area of the restaurant (the lounge is closed off during non-dinner hours). We picked a nice little table by the window, and perused the menu.

Maca Cafe is a traditional tapas cafe, with virtually all of the menu items being small plates of traditional Spanish cuisine. We chose a bunch to split between us, and got to ordering. The owner was more than happy to answer any particular questions we had about the dishes, and brought them out personally one at a time as they were made.

First up were the Croquettes ($6.00). The flavors of the croquettes change from day to day, and on this particular day the fillings were Jamon Serrano and Beef Tenderloin. Beneath the thin and crunchy shell was a creamy concoction with distinct pieces of meat that basically just added a bit of saltiness and texture to the filling. Both were especially delicous when paired with the Romesco sauce, which had a nice thick texture and smoky and nutty notes.

Croquettes at Maca

Next were the Empanadillas ($6.50), whose flavors also change daily – on our trip they were Pork & Apple, Spinach/Raisin, Cod/Red Pepper ($6.50). I think my husband must’ve got the half with the filling, because with the exception of the cod empanadillas, mine tasted mostly of the puff pastry shell surrounding them. My husband said his were slightly better, but honestly, we just weren’t as enamoured with these.

Empanadillas at Maca

We also went with the Tortilla Espanola ($6.50), a thick potato and onion omelet, and an extremely traditional Spanish mainstay. While prepared correctly, we felt it lacked a distinction in flavor between the ingredients – they mostly melded together and most of the flavor came from the olive oil it was cooked in.

Tortilla Espanola at Maca

We both love rice, so we didn’t think twice about ordering the Paella ($8.00), which in this case is a combination of  rice, shrimp, chicken and sausage. Although this paella was much drier and less saffrony than any I’ve had previously, it definitely didn’t lack flavor. So we reached a consensus that this dish was good, but not exactly what we expected.

Paella at Maca

We both agreed that the next dish was hands down our favorite – Seared Sea Scallops with Garlic Cream Sauce and Tomato Jam ($8.50). The scallops were seared perfectly, and the sweetness of the tomato jam contrasted beautifully with the creaminess of the garlic cream sauce. This dish caused my husband’s own scallop epiphany, and we both agreed that this is a dish we’d return for. It’s an especially good value considering it uses fresh dayboat scallops, of which you get three fairly large ones.

Seared Scallops with Tomato Jam and Garlic Cream Sauce at Maca

For dessert, we shared their signature dish, Chocolate Ganache ($6.50), a dollop of dark, rich chocolate ganache served with extra virgin olive oil and fleur de sel. Although dark chocolate is normally thought of a dessert, this one kind of straddles the line between sweet and savory, and does so extremely well.

Chocolate Ganache at Maca

Overall, we enjoyed our experience at Maca Cafe. All food was prepared well, delivered to us quickly, and the service was wonderful. We did think the portion sizes, as a general rule, were a bit small for the price, so it was necessary to order 5 or 6 between us to feel satisfied but not full. So while individual dishes may be low-priced, it can add up quickly, and may be too expensive a proposition for an everyday lunch. Having said that, compared to other tapas/small plates restaurants in the city, prices were quite reasonable and portions were quite generous. I think it’s just a matter of walking in the restaurant knowing what to expect.

Owner Norman Carmichael was nice enough to spend a few minutes chatting with us, and we found out that he’s working on a concept for the lounge where one can indulge in tapas bites (think Spanish amuse bouche on a toothpick), where one pays for as many toothpicks as they take.

Either way, we’re eager to return to try other dishes on the menu as well. Although it may be a bit out of the way for most, it definitely is worth the trip, at least for us.  And since they’re a member of Dine Originals Columbus, we’re really looking forward to see what they’re putting together for Restaurant Week.

If you’d like to go: Maca Cafe, 9 Olentangy St., Powell. 614.436.1212

Maca Caf? on Urbanspoon