First Look: TOM + CHEE Soft Opening

Author: paulboyer  //  Category: Columbus, Eating Local, First Look, Restaurant News, Restaurant Review

Well, it certainly has been quite a while, hasn’t it?

Sorry for our extended absence, but Ms. Foodie’s had some health issues (again) and while attending to her needs I’m afraid website updates have gone by the wayside…

HOWEVER, today I chanced upon the soft opening of the new Tom + Chee restaurant — the second one in the Columbus area — on Hilliard-Rome Road at the location of the late unlamented Ruby Tuesday’s.

I must say, it’s a vast improvement over that corporate abomination. B and I have never gotten a decent meal at a Ruby Tuesday’s (or TGI Friday’s, or sundry other corporate chain-hell restaurants, for the most part; Olive Garden excepted, but that’s a story for another time).

As I said, I was running errands for B, who remains in the hospital recuperating. My errands brought me to the Meijer’s on Hilliard-Rome Road and the Bath & Body Works, and thus my fate was sealed — I had to pass by what I had thought was a soon-to-be-opened Tom + Chee restaurant. Imagine my surprise when I saw PEOPLE inside, buying food! Needless to say, I was lured in by the promise of fancy-schmancy grilled cheese sandwiches and their mutant offspring.

Exterior of TOM+CHEE (Hilliard, OH)

Upon entering the premises, I called B and informed her where I was and that they were in fact holding a soft opening at that time. She told me to get whatever I wanted, and to get her a particular sandwich (more on that in a moment), so I did as she instructed. I ordered two different sandwiches; one I was sure she’d partake of (the Tom + Chee plus bacon), and one I was sure she’d never touch in a million years (the Armagoetta). I also ordered the creamy tomato-basil soup. B’s special request was the Barbara Blue, a “grilled cheese donut sandwich”.

Menu at TOM+CHEE (Hilliard, OH)

Service was quick and accurate, surprising for a soft launch (usually the soft launches experience glitches and serve to troubleshoot problems with their ordering, cooking, and serving processes). Bravo, Tom + Chee. :)

Seating at the Hilliard-Rome location is ample both indoors and out; the patio out front offers some protection from sun and weather. Orders (at least during the soft opening) are brought out to patrons’ tables by the staff.

Seating at TOM+CHEE (Hilliard, OH)

Now, to the sandwiches themselves. B’s chosen poison was the Barbara Blue ($3.95). That sandwich consists of a glazed donut cut in half with the inside surfaces of the donut becoming the grilled outside of the sandwich (the “pieces of bread”, so to speak). Between those pieces of glazed evil yeasty sweet “bread” was a blueberry compote, a generous portion of ham, and slices of brie cheese. ‘Twas messy indeed, but quite tasty — almost a “dessert sandwich”, though it retained a satisfying savory note thanks to the ham and brie.

Barbara Blue Grilled Cheese Sandwich from TOM+CHEE

Second to be consumed was the Tom + Chee ($4.95) (plus bacon for $2 extra). This was also a generously-sized (though not ridiculously huge, like Melt’s) sandwich comprised of two slices of grilled sourdough bread surrounding fresh large-diced tomatoes, garlic seasoning, cheddar cheese, and mozzarella cheese. The bacon as requested for the sandwich is added in the form of a copious quantity of small pieces of crispy pig belly that distribute the bacony goodness throughout the sandwich instead of being concentrated in a few strips that might accidentally be pulled out during a bite (thus denying the bacon to the rest of the sandwich). This was also quite good, especially paired with the Creamy Tomato Basil Soup, a slightly chunky concoction that’s perfect for dipping any one of these sandwiches.

Tomato, Cheese and Bacon Grilled Cheese from TOM+CHEE

Finally, we came to the Armagoetta ($7.95). What can you say about it that Adam Richman hasn’t already said on Man vs Food Nation? Well, for starters, it’s not insanely spicy — you can actually eat it and taste the ingredients rather than go running for the nearest pitcher of milk. It’s a slice of sourdough and a slice of rye surrounding a thick slice of goetta (a Cincinnati specialty not unlike scrapple, that uses the squeals & heels from your basic swine combined with pin oats; scrapple is similar but uses cornmeal as its grain base), a liberal slathering of sliced spicy cherry peppers, fried onions, sweet hot mustard, and pepperjack cheese. I enjoyed it greatly, since no single ingredient overpowered anything else in the sandwich and it was a well-balanced sandwich; I’d order it again in a Cincinnati minute.

Armagoetta Grilled Cheese Sandwich from TOM+CHEE

My verdict? If their soft launch is any indicator, they should do well in Columbus as a less-expensive and less pretentious alternative to a certain Short North grilled cheese emporium. Their offerings are original, tasty, well-conceived, and most importantly, REASONABLY SIZED AND PRICED.

Tom + Chee will be opening officially on Friday, July 18th. They’re located at 1844 Hilliard-Rome Road, Columbus, OH. Hours will be 10:45AM – 9PM Sun-Thu and 10:45AM – 10PM Fri/Sat.

First Look: Giant Eagle Market District

Author: swampkitty05  //  Category: Columbus, First Look, Food Porn

Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of being invited to attend the Grand Opening of the Giant Eagle Market District Kingsdale – a place that I’ve eagerly been awaiting the opening of ever since I tried their offerings at Taste the Future. As a guest of Giant Eagle, and in the interest of full disclosure, we got access to and/or things your average person didn’t get – in particular, they fed us breakfast and lunch, brought Adam Richman up to us for a personal meet-and-greet/one-on-one time, gave us a soup to nuts tour of the place with their chef in charge of prepared foods, and sent us home with a nifty swag bag. Can I just say it was refreshing how they embraced social media? I think that will really make a difference in the long run…

I arrived early on opening morning to a madhouse of a parking lot – and a near collision as some elderly guy stole a space I had waited patiently for and was in the process of pulling into. One of the upper management people from Pittsburgh (who I later found out was their director of corporate communications) witnessed this and diffused the situation and made sure that I got a space. I thanked him profusely (as there were no other handicapped spaces available, and the nearest empty space would have been about 1/4 mile away), and later on found out that they have shuttles available to the door from the spaces at the edges of the parking lot. Nice!

So, here’s the view of Market District from the outside, all nice and new and shiny. Pretty, isn’t it? A definite improvement over the dying (nay, dead!) shopping center Kingsdale used to be. Personally, I haven’t been to Kingsdale since Firdous closed their restaurant there, probably a good 7 or 8 years ago.

Exterior of the Giant Eagle Market District Kingsdale

On entering, a greeter handed me a map and other papers about the store, and when she found out I was one of the bloggers, she led me to an upstairs room where the other bloggers already were waiting. I already know Lisa of Restaurant Widow, but finally had the opportunity to meet Andrea of Off Her Cork and Wendy of Celiacs in the House. Here are the four of us later that afternoon on a tour of the store, guided by John Gruver, the Executive Chef of Development of Prepared Foods. Below in the pic, from L-R are Andrea, Wendy, Me, Chef John, and Lisa.

Food Bloggers with Chef John Gruver of Giant Eagle Market District

I’m going to describe my day in detail, along with my initial impressions, with just a few pictures in the entry itself so I don’t give you all picture fatigue (I’ve uploaded almost 100) – be sure to check out the slide show below for all the pics…

Around 10am, we headed downstairs for the press conference – after hearing from many, many executives (who actually seemed genuinely excited and proud and extremely vested in the success of this venture), Governor Strickland spoke for a few moments, taking the time to mention the 400+ new and retained jobs that this store brings to the Columbus metro area.

Governor Ted Strickland at the Grand Opening of the Giant Eagle Market District Kingsdale

Adam Richman also spoke, and afterwards, he came by our room upstairs, and we got to meet him face to face. I’m hoping I didn’t come off like the drooling fangirl I am. Seriously, though, he is one of the most down to earth and nicest people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. Great sense of humor, doesn’t take himself too seriously, and so easy to talk to.

Me with Adam Richman

The best way to describe Market District is HUGE. Someone (I don’t remember who, otherwise I’d credit them directly) said it’s like a Whole Foods swallowed an entire Giant Eagle, and I think that’s a pretty accurate description. It’s like a normal Giant Eagle in the center of the store, with all of the interesting and exotic stuff around the perimeters. And really, I think that’s the appeal of a place like this – Whole Foods, while fun to visit, is fairly limited with its selections – inevitably, if I shop at Whole Foods, I still have to make a trip to a normal grocery store for staple items. This truly is a one stop shop, with all the same sales that a normal Giant Eagle has, so I can get the $140/lb truffles AND the 10/$10 boxes of pasta at the same time.

A good quarter of the store is the “restaurant” area – a food court of sorts each doing a different thing – there’s a sub shop, a pizza stand, a place that makes freshly tossed salads, a smokehouse with different meat items, an Asian street food area with curries, satays and the like, an area that makes crepes, waffles, and rotis (potato cakes), a prepared food stand, a self-serve (by the  pound) hot bar and cold bar with over 150 items, and more. The areas that serve breakfast items open early at 6am, while the other areas don’t open until closer to lunch time. This restaurant area has it’s own checkout area, so no need to wait behind a person with a cart full of groceries. There’s an entire eating area on the second floor to enjoy your purchases (if you’re eating in, they’ll serve it on real dishes with real flatware), or you can get it to go and packaged accordingly. But there’s so much to choose from, it’s hard to pick just one thing. So far, my favorites are the spinach salad (in the tossed salads area), the strawberry-banana-nutella crepes (from the creperie), and the crab cakes (from the prepared foods area).

Restaurant Area of Giant Eagle Market District Kingsdale

After the press conference and our time with Adam, they let us loose in the restaurant to get anything we wanted for lunch – primarily, I got a pizza (solid, but cooled down too quickly), a crab cake, and these crepes with nutella/banana/strawberries. A steal at only $6 for 2 whole crepes.

Nutella Crepes with Strawberries and Bananas from Giant Eagle Market District Kingsdale

To give you an idea of the selection on the salad bar, here you’re looking at maybe 1/10 of it.

Another View of the Salad Bar from Above at Giant Eagle Market District Kingsdale

What impressed me about the restaurant area is the attention to detail. When is the last time you saw a sour cream/chive/cheese station near the soups?

Garnishes for Soup at Giant Eagle Market District Kingsdale

They have decent sushi, but believe it or not, I’ve found that supermarket sushi can be really good as long as they’re using Southern Tsunami as their supplier. It was rolled a bit tighter than I like, but they had a great selection of items, and were more than willing to roll it fresh if what you were looking for wasn’t there.

Sushi at Giant Eagle Market District Kingsdale

Beautiful bakery items, of a higher quality than you usually see at a supermarket. I would say that selection and flavor of bakery items were similar to Whole Foods.

More Cakes from the Bakery at Giant Eagle Market District Kingsdale

Ditto with the gelato – I still haven’t tried all the flavors, but I really enjoyed the strawberry with balsamic reduction that I tried.

Gelato at Giant Eagle Market District Kingsdale

I was impressed with their selection of mushrooms – you could get a full range from white button or crimini mushrooms for $2.99/lb. all the way to black truffles for $139.99/lb. You’re only seeing about half their selection here – they also had oyster and yellow oyster, pom poms, and a few others.

Fresh Mushrooms at Giant Eagle Market District Kingsdale

I’ve never seen sugar cane in a supermarket before, but they had it, along with a decent selection of other ethnic produce.

Sugar Cane at Giant Eagle Market District Kingsdale

As part of opening day festivities, they had someone there doing fruit and vegetable carving, and he did some amazing work!

Rose Carved from Watermelon at Giant Eagle Market District Kingsdale

Was glad to see that they put some importance to sourcing local products, as they had both a special dairy and dry goods local products area – they had brands like Jeni’s and Snowville Creamery, and when I queried about their commitment to sourcing locally at the press conference, afterward one of their executives handed me his business card and told me to contact him directly with any local products/producers I may know of – so those of you who are reading who manufacture a local product – give me a holler at columbusfoodieATgmailDOTcom and I’ll pass your info along.

Ohio Dairy Products at Giant Eagle Market District Kingsdale

The most impressive part for me was their meat section – in addition to your normal grocery meats (ground beef, chicken, pork, etc) they had dry aged steaks – one of these days, I’ll make the splurge.

Dry Aged Beef at Giant Eagle Market District Kingsdale

And they also had a full selection of exotic meats, such as venison, elk, rabbit, bison and even such oddities as rattlesnake and python.

Exotic Meats at Giant Eagle Market District Kingsdale

And just in case you don’t know how to cook elk, or bison, or rattlesnake, they have a fully staffed demo kitchen that is always making recipes, but will still take the time to answer any of your questions, demonstrate techniques, give you recipes or whatever assistance you need to gain the confidence needed to try something new. Once in a while, they also have celebrity chefs in there doing demos.

Demo Kitchen at Giant Eagle Market District Kingsdale

Also quite impressive is their olive bar – I’m not an olive fan myself, but my olive-loving husband was drooling at the prospect. These two pictures just about cover the size of this behemoth.

Olive Bar at Giant Eagle Market District Kingsdale

Olive Bar at Giant Eagle Market District Kingsdale

They also have over 400 varieties of cheese, although they were missing a few of my favorites (Blue Jacket Dairy anything, Rogue River Blue, etc). Still, a really good selection and they’re willing to let you taste anything they have, all you need to do is ask.

Blue Cheeses at Giant Eagle Market District at Kingsdale

The only other place I’ve ever seen Ohio City Pasta was at the West Side Market in Cleveland, so it was nice to see that they’re selling it down here.

Ohio City Pasta from Giant Eagle Market District Kingsdale

One of my favorite things about Market District so far is their bulk olive oil and vinegar section – it’s $6.99 a bottle. We bought some white balsamic peach to make some vinaigrette.

Bulk Olive Oils and Vinegars at Giant Eagle Market District Kingsdale

That’s the short version of the tour, but there are many more pictures in the slideshow.

Still, the pictures don’t quite do the place justice – this is a place you need to see for yourself to believe. For us, it’ll be a regular stop. A huge thank you to Giant Eagle for your hospitality and giving us bloggers an up front and personal tour.

If you’d like to go: Giant Eagle Market District Kingsdale, 3061 Kingsdale Center (Northwest Blvd, just past Zollinger), Columbus, OH 43221, 614-538-0762

Review: Piada Italian Street Food

Author: swampkitty05  //  Category: First Look, Food Porn, Restaurant Review

Depending on who you speak to, it can be argued that the name “Piada Italian Street Food” is a little misleading; after all, with such a bustling and quickly growing street food scene here in Columbus, there’s an almost unwritten expectation that our street food be, you know – actually served on the street, out of a cart, taco truck, or even in an obviously ethnic store front tucked away in an otherwise long forgotten strip mall in what used to be the burbs but are now huge ethnic strongholds.

Arguments aside, after seeing some pre-opening pictures of the food, we were really looking forward to the opening of the fast causal Piada, the latest concept by BDI founder Chris Doody, who has a proven track record of restaurant successes in Columbus and other locations around the US.

It opened up just this past week in a strip mall on Lane Avenue in Upper Arlington, next to Buckeye Corner.

Piada Italian Street Food Exterior

On entering, we thought the look and feel of the place and menu was very similar to Chipotle, and that comparison is not coincidental – they studied Chipotle’s business model for a couple of years before taking the plunge with Piada, and decided to try to bring the spirit of the traditional Italian street food piada (or piadina, as it’s more commonly known there) to a concept that can be easily reproduced for future expansion/franchise possibilities.

Ordering is simple – you choose your format (piada, pasta bowl, or chopped salad), what grill item you’d like, whether or not you want grilled vegetables and or pasta in it, a sauce, cheese if you’d like, and a whole host of fresh vegetables and/or dressing. The price is based on what grill item you choose, and there’s no nickel and dime add-on charges for your choices.

Piada Italian Street Food Menu

Most of the meat choices are already on the line (Italian meats, sausage, etc), others are cooked to order (the salmon, for instance).

Meat Choices

There aren’t a ton of cheese choices (mozzarella, shaved Parmesan, or feta were the ones I saw), but they are the ones that made the most sense to be there. It would be nice if they expanded the cheese choices a bit in the future to include things like gorganzola, asiago, fontina, etc. There are five different sauce choices, including red or green pesto, parmesan, pomodoro, and diavalo.

Cheese Choices

Where they really shine, however, were the veggie options. So many options – onions, tomatoes, arugula, olives, shaved fennel, avocado, etc – and all of it super fresh and full (those that do run low are quickly refilled). You can choose to top the veggies with an additional dressing if you like.

Fresh Veg Choices

I decided that I’d go with a Piada, since it was the signature item of the place. I chose the sausage piada ($6.35) with pasta, grilled zucchini, grilled red peppers, pomodoro sauce, mozzarella and Parmesan cheese, mixed greens, red onion, tomato, avocado, arugula and balsamic vinaigrette. It was absolutely delicious, but very messy to eat because the piada shell has a tendency to crack a bit (but that could also be that they filled it up so much with goodies – I occasionally have the same problem when getting burritos at Chipotle too). Super-duper filling, I was only able to finish half and took the other half home. The flavors melded together beautifully, and this will probably be my regular order here from now on.

Sausage Pasta Piada

Paul opted for a pasta bowl with salmon ($7.65) – he topped it with grilled zucchini and red peppers, both diavolo and creamy parmesan sauces, mozzarella, shaved parmesan, and black olives, and for the most part he was pleased with it. Our experience was not without opening week hiccups, though – because the salmon was woefully undercooked. However, when he brought it to their attention, they remade the dish for him, and told us to have soup, on them. Restaurant owners, pay attention: *that* is how you do customer service right – you apologize, you remake it, and realize that you only have one chance to make a positive first impression. We already were liking them up to that point because of the friendliness and helpfulness of their staff, and the way they treated us when something went wrong will bring us back.

Salmon Pasta Bowl

We probably wouldn’t have even tried the soup if it hadn’t been comped to us – it just didn’t occur to us to order it. But oh my, are we so glad we did try it. We got the lobster bisque (normally $4.25), and it was the best version of the dish we’ve had yet – creamy, smooth and rich, with multiple levels of flavor and bits of real lobster scattered throughout. Served nice and hot like soup is supposed to be served but rarely is. We had the opportunity to try the tomato basil bisque ($3.45) today, and it, too, is one of the best versions we’ve had. Do yourself a favor and try the soup if you stop by.

Lobster Bisque

We shared an order of the cannoli chips ($2.95), with cinnamon and powdered sugared bits of cannoli shell that are served with a smallish dollop of ricotta cream. Wish there had been just a bit more, because even eating a conservative amount of the cream, we ran out of it long before we ran out of chips. Not sure if I’d order this again, but if you’re in mood of just a little something sweet and don’t want to commit to a heavy, large dessert, this fits the bill.

Cannoli Chips

There are lots of things we like about Piada – the food is fresh and tasty and a good value, the place is super clean and organized, the design of the takeout containers and layout of the restaurant are thoughtful, and the customer service and willingness of employees to make the customer happy is amazing. Not everyone will get it, but I have no doubt that enough people will in order to make it another Doody success story.

If you’d like to go: Piada Italian Street Food, 1315 W. Lane Ave., Upper Arlington, OH, 614-754-7802

Piada Italian Street Food on Urbanspoon

First Look: Yagööt

Author: swampkitty05  //  Category: Columbus, First Look, Healthy

I’ve been hearing about the Pinkberry (aka “Crackberry”) craze on the West coast for years – a frozen yogurt that is more tangy than sweet, topped with super fresh fruit toppings. I was never sure if it would be something that I would like, but it is definitely something that I’ve been wanting to try. Little did I know that we got a similar chain, Red Mango, on campus a while back. Because me and the OSU campus, we just don’t mix unless it’s during a school break.

Not that Easton Town Center is more my style. I try to avoid that like the plague too, but since I had to go to the Container Store anyway, I figured I may as well give the new yogurt place there, named Yagööt, a try. Yagööt, unlike Red Mango, isn’t a chain. It’s a family owned company with a couple of stores in the Cincinnati area, and a single location in the Columbus area. The vibe, from the outside, is pure Easton, where there’s very little to differentiate one building from the next. We almost didn’t see it from the street, but the ultra modern chairs outside drew my eye.

Yagoot Exterior

Inside, it’s very minimalist, with bright colors and uncomfortable furniture (and not much of it, either – it must be standing room only in there on busy nights). We were greeted by a very friendly employee offering us samples and a bright descriptive menu board.

Yagoot Menu

For both of us, it was love at first taste. It’s hard to describe it – super creamy, sweet but not too sweet, with a bit of a tang to it. It kind of reminded me of buttermilk but without the sourness that accompanies it.

There are tons of topping choices – lots of fresh fruit, granola, cereal, etc. so it’s not difficult to pick one, two or three toppings for your treat.

Yagoot Toppings

I went with a medium, topped with strawberries, bananas, and Cap’n Crunch. It was a heavenly combination, that I couldn’t get enough of. I usually never finish a cup of ice cream/frozen yogurt because it gets too cloying with the sweetness. That wasn’t the case with Yagööt. I also sampled the mochi, an off the menu topping, which adds great texture without adding a bunch of sugar.

Medium Yagoot with Strawberries, Bananas, and Cap'n Crunch

P. got a small topped with blueberries and Alligator Crunch (a crunchy, brown sugar based topping), which he was quite pleased with.

Small Yagoot with Blueberries and Rainforest Crunch

For the most part, this type of frozen yogurt is pretty healthy – 120 calories for a small, very low fat, less sugar than similar frozen treats, live active cultures for digestive health, with lots of fresh fruit toppings that won’t hike up the calorie or fat count. It can very easily be incorporated as an occasional treat for those who are trying to eat healthy.

It’s a good thing that Easton is across town from me and that I hate going there so much – Yagööt is addictive enough that I would be there daily otherwise. I can imagine that when the weather gets warmer, the line will be out the door. From what I understand, this type of frozen yogurt is very polarizing – you either love it or you hate it, but don’t you owe it to yourself to find out? :)

If you’d like to go: Yagööt, 3998 Gramercy St (Easton Town Center), Easton, 614.532.6565