Restaurant Week Fall 2009: Black Creek Bistro

In foodie circles, Black Creek Bistro has always had a stellar reputation, and has always come highly recommended. So I was fairly sure that my less than ideal experience during Restaurant Week in the spring was an anomaly, and I had all intentions to go back and try it again when food was seasonal. Lucky for me, Restaurant Week Fall Edition was scheduled for right when the best produce would be available, so returning to Black Creek Bistro for a follow-up visit this week was a no-brainer.

Black Creek Bistro Sign

As they did in the spring, Black Creek Bistro is one of the only participating restaurants that is offering four courses instead of three, but with the addition of a couple of new chefs since then, it inevitably was going to be a much easier thing to pull off. I had already made my choices before we even walked in the restaurant door.

Restaurant Week Menu from Black Creek Bistro

I was glad to be able to take a couple of minutes to catch up with Chef Kent Peters, who I had not seen since Taste of the Independents. As I’ve mentioned before, he’s one class act. I have the utmost of respect for the sustainability he incorporates between farm and restaurant – to know that most of the vegetables eaten during the meal were grown on the farm made my little locavore heart happy.

Bread service (not pictured), were run of the mill dinner rolls, but they were nicely warmed and crispy on the outside, and served with a rather delicious compound butter.

To start, I chose the chili relleno, which was a fiery, roasted hot banana pepper stuffed with melted queso fresco, dipped in what tasted like a beer batter and fried until crisp, served on top of a cold ragu of tomatillos and other veggies which added a sweetness, tempered the heat of the chile pepper, and just paired wonderfully. Although the dish was at the very edge of heat level I can tolerate, it still was a starter that I’d look forward to ordering again if it were on the regular menu.

Chili Relleno from Black Creek Bistro

Paul chose the Tri-Color Seafood Carpaccio, in which raw tuna, scallop, and salmon was pounded thin and given a treatment similar to ceviche (with lime juice and olive oil). The roasted garlic was an especially nice touch, but I think the crostini was a bit of a distraction and not even necessary to pull this dish together.

Tri-Color Seafood Carpaccio from Black Creek Bistro

For the salad course, I went for the Heirloom Beet Salad, which topped farm fresh mixed greens with roasted red beets and 4 different kind of heirloom tomatoes. A nice crumble of goat cheese and feta, a flavorful pesto, and cucumbers just made this a perfect example of the farm on a plate. It doesn’t get much better (or fresher) than this.

Heirloom Beet Salad from Black Creek Bistro

Paul opted for the Bistro Salad, which was a nice simple composed salad of mesclun mix topped with strawberries, gorgonzola cheese, red onion, walnuts and a slightly sweet balsamic dressing. While not the least bit complex, it was absolutely delicious.

Bistro Salad from Black Creek Bistro

My entree was a perfectly seared red snapper, paired with a triangle of au gratin potatoes, fresh spinach, and balsamic roasted red pepper relish that was studded with olives. Although I’m not a huge olive fan, the flavor wasn’t overwhelming, and just added a bit of brininess to the dish.

Snapper from Black Creek Bistro

Paul’s entree was the most unusual dish of the evening, a Peanut Butter and Jelly Duck. A perfectly seared breast of duck is sliced, and topped with a slightly sweet berry sauce. The noodles are tossed in a slightly sweet peanut sauce. Combined, the sauces truly do taste just like peanut butter and jelly. The portion size was perfect, because this dish could easily get cloying in a larger quantity.

Peanut Butter & Jelly Duck from Black Creek Bistro

We both opted for the Bacon Apple Tart for dessert – it was a simple apple tart, served with house-made buttermilk ice cream, and sprinkled with crispy lardons of bacon. I love the combination of salty and sweet, and this did not disappoint. I especially loved the ice cream.

Bacon Apple Tart with Buttermilk Ice Cream from Black Creek Bistro

In short, our experience this time around was the polar opposite of our last experience, and I can now see why it’s both a media and local foodie darling. I can see myself visiting much more often, especially during the growing season.

Our server, Katie, was absolutely awesome. Engaging, friendly, non-obtrusive, and anticipated our every need without us even needing to ask.

If you’d like to go: Black Creek Bistro, 51 Parsons Ave, Columbus, OH 43215, 614-246-9662

Black Creek Bistro on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Week Fall 2009: Milo’s Deli

As part of our desire to do Restaurant Week recession-style, more than half of the places we visit this week will be $20.09 or less for the pair of us. This is one such place.

Milo’s Deli is located on West Broad in Franklinton, just a few blocks west of Mt. Carmel West Hospital. Franklinton is a much-maligned but underappreciated neighborhood, chock full of history. I happen to think it’s a diamond in the rough, similar to the Short North circa 1995. I’m hoping that due to it’s proximity to downtown, like the Short North, it will eventually show some revitalization. Places such as Milo’s will go a long way toward making that wish a reality.

Easily accessible since it’s on Broad Street, there is no shortage of parking, as there is both plenty of on-street parking and Milo’s also has it’s own lot off to the side.

Milo's Deli Sign

Upon walking in, we saw that the Dine Originals special was prominently displayed. We went around the side to order, talking to the slightly standoffish but otherwise helpful cashier. After paying for your order, you seat yourself, and wait for them to call you.

The special this week is 2 Milo’s Reubens, 2 side salads, 2 drinks and 2 cookies for $20.09. While this is very similar to their regular price (you can buy the sandwich/side/drink combo normally for $9.75), it is one heck of a value for the amount of food. Both Paul and I left there absolutely stuffed. The Milo’s Reuben that was the centerpiece of both of our platters was one of the better ones I’ve had – good meat to bread ratio, nice combination of meats (corned beef, turkey and pastrami), nicely grilled, hearty rye bread that had properly chewy crust, and good balance among all the other toppings. It is very similar to the sandwich offered by a well known deli in town, but at a fraction of the price. The sandwich is a static offering during Restaurant Week, but there are quite a few other choices otherwise – about 6-8 different types of drinks including fountain soda, several different potato and pasta salads to choose from for your side, and about 6 different types of cookie.

Special Menu at Milo's Deli

I went with the combo of Reuben, Redskin Potato Salad, Chips and Sugar Cookie. The redskin potato salad is sour-cream based, with a bit of dill, and the generous portion was quite enjoyable. The requisite dill pickle was crunchy and had good flavor. And the sugar cookie was the size of a softball, and extremely moist.

Reuben, Potato Salad, Chips & Sugar Cookie at Milo's Deli

Paul went with the tortellini salad, which is cheese tortellini with fresh veggies and an Italian dressing, and an oatmeal raisin cookie, which was also huge and full of traditional oatmeal raisin flavor.

Reuben, Tortellini Salad, Chips, and Oatmeal Raisin Cookie at Milo's Deli

The regular menu at Milo’s is huge, and we hope to go back soon to experience more of it. I was surprised that such a deli existed in Franklinton, and can see why it’s extremely popular with hospital employees. I can only hope that people won’t be put off by the location and venture over to give it a try. It certainly is worth a visit.

If you’d like to go: Milo’s Deli & Cafe, 980 W. Broad St, Columbus (Franklinton), OH 43222, 614-224-0104

Milos Deli & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Week Fall 2009: G. Michael’s

Let me just first start by saying that I’m thrilled to death that Restaurant Week is back for the fall. I enjoyed my experiences so much this spring (as did others) that it was a win-win situation for both the restaurants and customers alike. Our choices this time will be a bit lower cost, but that doesn’t mean we won’t get a fewer higher end ones in there, like this one.

Let me just put it on record that I’ve never, ever had a bad experience at G. Michael’s. It’s easily in my Top 10 list of best restaurants in Columbus, and we’ve had absolutely stellar food and service each time. So this was the first place on our list for Restaurant Week, and we didn’t want to wait until the end of the week when word of how great it is got to everyone else making it impossible to get in there. :)

G. Michael's Bistro in Columbus, OH

The three-course menu at G. Michael’s will run you $30.09 per person, making it one of the more expensive options for Restaurant Week, but given the quality of the food, the atmosphere, and the listed menu prices for the components of the meal, it truly is a great value.

G. Michael’s hasn’t changed its bread service in like, ever; but the bread here is so good that I can see why they stick with something that works. As usual, the hearty sourdough and what I believe to be a wheat bread are served with a nice, soft, pepper and onion based compound butter.

Bread Service at G. Michael's

For my first course, I chose the Pan-Fried Crab Cake with sweet corn butter sauce and house-made guacamole. This was a very nicely composed dish, where the flavors really played off of each other. Not to say that each individual component wasn’t good on it’s own, especially the guacamole that had a nice flavor to it (which I later found out was lime zest) that you don’t usually find as a component. The crunch of the breading on the crab cake, too, lent a good contrast that I found to be well-balanced.

Pan-Fried Crab Cake from G. Michael's

Paul went with the Summer Tomato Bisque, which was a thick, creamy, extremely savory but not overly spiced hot tomato soup, which captured the flavor of the seasonal fruit beautifully. This was an extremely hearty offering.

Summer Tomato Bisque at G. Michael's

The entrees, though, is where it was at, especially Paul’s choice of Spinach-Stuffed Golden Trout, served with a fingerling potato, bell pepper, green tomato and apple-smoked bacon hash with leek cream sauce and pecan pesto. Oh, this dish was absolutely beautiful in every way, and I’m so glad it’s a regular menu item, because we WILL return for this one before the menu changes over next month. The skin-on trout was crispy on the outside, stuffed with a nicely seasoned creamy spinach, on top of a concoction of absolute evil that was swimming in some of the best creamed sauce ever. The pecan pesto just brought the entire dish over the top. The flavor? Beyond describing in words, you’ll have to try this one for yourself.

Spinach-Stuffed Golden Trout at G. Michael's

I was equally pleased, however, with my choice of Veal Osso Bucco with sweet pea, shiitake mushroom and roasted garlic risotto, in a saffron-scented jus and candied tomatoes, if for no other reason that you rarely see this on any menu, and I’m a huge fan of anything with marrow. It was tender, flavorful, and sat upon a risotto which although not the traditional preparation for Osso Bucco (a Risotto Milanese), went together perfectly. I think that’s why they used the jus to bring those saffron flavors in. I’m not so sure about the candied tomatoes, though – they seemed just like chopped regular tomatoes to me.

Veal Osso Bucco at G. Michael's

Paul’s dessert choice of Lemon Gingersnap Tart was a good one – the lemon filling was super creamy, tart but not too tart, in a candy-like crust. I’d order this one again myself.

Lemon Gingersnap Tart at G. Michael's

I really enjoyed my Buttermilk Panna Cotta with crumbled maple-oat streusel and blueberry-vanilla sauce. The streusel is what elevated this dish above being “just a panna cotta”, and was probably my favorite component in the dish.

Buttermilk Panna Cotta at G. Michael's

There’s a good reason we keep on going back to G. Michael’s – excellent food (they are especially artful at fish/seafood, we’ve found), understated but extraordinary service, great atmosphere. If you choose just one place to visit this Restaurant Week, this is a winner.

If you’d like to go (and a link to their Restaurant Week menu): G. Michael’s Bistro, 595 S. Third Street, Columbus, OH 43215, 614-464-0575.

G. Michael's Bistro and Bar on Urbanspoon

Review: Gallo’s Tap Room

I admit, for the longest time, I wouldn’t set foot into Gallo’s Tap Room. For all intents and purposes, it looks like a dive bar in the middle of a concrete wasteland nestled deep in suburbia. And maybe at one time, it was exactly that. But little birdies have been whispering in my ear for a while now, telling me to give it a chance, that the food was actually good despite the questionable choice of location.

Color us surprised that we had misjudged Gallo’s Tap Room all along. Our first clue that things would be different was when we spied the beer list, and saw that they had several good imports (including my beloved Lindemann’s Framboise lambic) on tap. Plus an impressive selection of bottled imports and microbrews as well.

The menu is on the small side, which allows them to focus on quality by using fresh ingredients (their wings are fresh, never frozen, for instance), making their own sauces and sides, etc. It’s a fusion of Italian and pub grub, with plenty to choose from among soup, salads and paninis. Their wings are reputed to be some of the best in Columbus.

The ambiance is typical dark sports bar, with plenty of tables about to enjoy your meal, but we chose to eat outside on their small patio. While it wasn’t an oasis surrounded by concrete, it did provide us the ability to eat outside in relative peace and quiet, with a nice breeze blowing.

We started with an order of their Fried Pierogies ($6.50), which were a half dozen potato and onion pierogi deep fried to a nice golden brown. While this isn’t a typical Midwest preparation, to displaced East Coasters like my husband and me, it was a nice slice of home. Served with sour cream (and the caramelized onions we asked for on the side), they were a thing of beauty, and a perfect start to our meal.

Pierogies from Gallo's Tap Room

For his main, my husband went with the 4 O’ Clock Panini ($7.25), which tops a Rustic bread with thinly sliced home made meatballs with a wonderful red sauce and aged provolone. The whole mess is grilled on a panini press to crispy perfection. Despite him taking darn near a half hour to finish it, it remained crispy and warm throughout.

4 'o Clock Panini Sandwich from Gallo's Tap Room

Sandwiches come with your choice of fries, an apple cole slaw, half and half (half of fries, half of cole slaw), or a salad. Or you can opt for soup for an additional charge. He chose the apple cole slaw, which is a traditional cabbage slaw with shreds of apple in it. The slaw was a lot less dressed than most I’ve had, and much less sweet (it seems if the sweetness comes primarily from the apple). A light sprinkling of salt helped bring out all the subtle flavors of it.

Apple Cole Slaw from Gallo's Tap Room

I went with their Angus Burger ($7.95), which is their best-selling sandwich. It puts a half pound burger (cooked to order) on a ciabatta roll, and then tops it with lettuce, tomato, and onion (and cheese if you desire). Unfortunately, when they first brought it to me it was woefully overcooked (well done when I had ordered it medium rare). When I brought it to our server’s attention he seemed genuinely mortified, and whisked it away and had a fresh burger to me in a matter of minutes. The second time around, the burger was just about perfect – nicely seasoned, cooked exactly medium rare, and juicy as all get out. The ciabatta roll stood up well to the juicy bloody onslaught. Opt for some of their homemade mayo to be served with it for a true taste treat.

Angus Burger from Gallo's Tap Room

I got fries with mine, and if they’re not fresh cut, they’re indistinguishable from fresh cut. Deep fried to golden perfection, and delicious with salt and some malt vinegar.

French Fries from Gallos Tap Room

Service was flawless. Our server (who I also believe is one of the brothers who owns the place) was engaging, helpful, and extremely attentive. Even though we were seated outside (away from the main dining area) we didn’t want for a single thing during our entire meal.

One would hardly expect to get outstanding food in a sports bar, but this is the exception to the rule. If you’re in the area, toss all your preconceived notions out and stop in. You won’t regret it for a second.

If you’d like to go: Gallo’s Tap Room, 5019 Olentangy River Rd (in the Micro Center Plaza, between KMart and Micro Center), Columbus, OH 43214, 614-457-2394

Gallo's Tap Room on Urbanspoon

Review: Basi Italia

When I ask those in the know where to get good Italian in Columbus, an answer that inevitably comes up time and time again is Basi Italia. Unbelievably though, although it’s been on my radar for ages, I never got around to eating there until a couple of days ago. Part of that is because it’s hidden away in a part of Victorian Village that I don’t normally travel. It’s that sort of blink and you’ll miss it place that you have to know about to notice, and it’s not the type of place you’ll stumble upon going about your day. I can imagine it is wildly popular with neighborhood folks, because it looks right at home among the quaint houses in that area.

We’ve heard lots of things about their beautiful patio, and when we had an unseasonably cool day recently, we decided to stop for lunch and experience it firsthand. Although it was well after the normal lunch rush, they still had a good crowd there, and not one person was sitting inside – it seems as everybody had the same desire to eat al fresco that we did. Although not a huge patio, it’s laid out well, and can fit more people out there than one would think at first glance.

Their lunch menu isn’t huge, but there are plenty of options to choose from. For a starter, I went with one of their specials, a watermelon-goat cheese salad ($5) that was served with some well-dressed arugula and a nice drizzle of balsamic vinegar. The watermelon they chose was at the height of sweetness and juicyness, and the red chile flake marinade it had soaked in lent a bite to the finished dish that was unexpected. The whole dish was extremely well balanced, and super light and refreshing.

Watermelon Goat Cheese Salad at Basi Italia

My husband chose a Baby Wedge Salad ($5) as his starter, which was essentially an entire cored & cleaned head of baby crisp lettuce on a plate with perfectly cooked bacon, red onion, grape tomatoes, gorgonzola cheese and a really creamy Green Goddess dressing. While it was a bit messy to eat, my husband found it to be extremely filling – almost a lunch unto itself, and a great value. He stated he’d go back for this alone.

Baby Wedge Salad at Basi Italia

The Pasta Pomodoro ($9) that my husband chose as his main was a simple dish, but prepared to perfection. The serving size was just right, and it was cooked to the perfect level of al dente. The simple tomato sauce wasn’t overly fussy, and the shaved Parmesan cheese it was served with helped bring out the sweetness and acidity of the tomatoes. It just goes to show that a dish need not be complex to be good.

Pasta Pomodoro at Basi Italia

The lump crab and sweet corn risotto ($12) that I ordered as my entree was among the best I’ve had in town. Once again, the risotto was prepared with a skilled hand, and all the flavors worked together wonderfully – the inherent sweetness of the crab and the corn and caramelized onions, the textural contrast and crunch of the sunflower spouts on top. The serving size was quite ample, and just the right amount to fill me up completely.

Lump Crab and Sweet Corn Risotto at Basi Italia

Service was super-friendly and on the ball. Our server was more than happy to answer the numerous questions we had on various components of the dishes and preparation methods without batting an eye. And since we went in mid-afternoon, on street parking on Hubbard was a breeze. We can’t wait to return!

If you’d like to go: Basi Italia, 811 Highland St, Columbus, OH 43215, 614-294-7383

Basi Italia on Urbanspoon

Review: Dirty Frank’s Hot Dog Palace

Well, it really would be unfair of me to call this a review, since it’s virtually impossible for me to be impartial. I’m lucky enough to count co-owners (and soon to be spouses!) Liz and Harold among my friends, and because of that, will naturally lean toward wanting to see them succeed in all of their endeavors. However, that doesn’t mean I’m above doling out a little constructive criticism, so we’ll just call this a quasi-review with the qualifier that I do have an established relationship with the owners.

I’ve been super excited about the opening of Dirty Frank’s, if for nothing else that it was a long time coming. Numerous unexpected delays and additional hoops to jump through meant that the opening didn’t come for nearly a year after its projected opening date. To say that it was one of the most anticipated openings in Columbus history would be pretty accurate, and it had built up a cult following and considerable buzz before even opening its doors. Part of that is due to the way that the Betty’s Family of Restaurants (BFR) has embraced social media with a vengeance, keeping interested parties up to date via Twitter, Facebook, Columbus Underground and more.

They opened for business on July 1st, with limited hours (they’re on a normal schedule now, open 7 days a week from 11am-2am). They’re located at 248 S. 4th Street (right near Rich, in the old Queen Bee space), and after extensive renovations (and one heck of a pretty ketchup-and-mustard colored paint job), became the cozy kitschy spot it is now. The walls are decorated with paintings of 80′s pop and metal stars, like Michael Jackson, Metallica, etc. done by Liz’s brother Thom Lessner. The music which fills the space is that of unsigned local bands. Every last detail has been thoughtfully put in place, and it shows.

We had stopped in the first time on opening night – it had been a complete madhouse that day, so we decided to wait a bit until things settled down to visit again. Fast forward to almost two months later, when we stopped by midweek in mid-afternoon. We took a seat in the window by the front door.

The first time we visited, they had been out of slushies because the demand for them far outweighed their supply. This time around, we were psyched because there were slushies to be had. I went with the cherry ($2), and Paul went with a more interesting variation called the Hot Rod Slush ($2), in which a habanero-lime syrup is swirled into a lime slushie. Both were quite refreshing, and Paul’s Hot Rod slushie had a nice kick to it, which appeared as a bit of a burn in the back of the throat.

Cherry & Lime Slushies at Dirty Frank's

Both the dogs (at $3 each on beef or veggie dog) and the sides ($2) are priced quite reasonably, making a visit to Dirty Frank’s well within just about everyone’s budget. On our first visit, we had tried the Chicago, the Whoa Nellie, the Nikola, the Razzle Dazzle and the Seoul Dog, of which the Chicago and the Razzle Dazzle were our favorites. In an effort to try everything on the menu at least once, we picked entirely different dogs this visit. We both tried each others dogs, too – so after this visit we’ve tried 9 dogs total. For what it’s worth, given the choice between the regular beef dog and the jumbo beef dog, go for the jumbo beef. It gives a nicer meat to bun ratio, and is well worth the cost of the .50 upgrade. In the future, I’d love if Dirty Frank’s offered toasting/grilling of the buns as an option. While I can appreciate a nice soft bun, I prefer a toasted one.

The Ohioana ($3.50 w/ jumbo beef dog) tops the dog with a spicy corn relish (made with sweet corn, jalapeno and pickle relish) on one of their dogs, which is then sprinkled with a touch of celery salt. While it’s a nice crunchy relish, I would love to see a little more kick to it (maybe more jalapeno?) so that the sweetness of the other ingredients would stand out more instead of blending into the background. As is, this topping is a definite safe choice for just about everyone.

Ohioana Dog at Dirty Frank's

My favorite of all the dogs I’ve tried so far is the Fancy Pants Dog ($3.50 w/ jumbo beef dog), which tops the dog with some Dijon mustard and nice sweet (and slightly “warm” spiced) cornichons. It’s a combination of flavors that I didn’t think I would enjoy, since I’m not particularly fond of pickles, but it somehow works really well.

Fancy Pants Dog at Dirty Frank's

The Tater Tots ($2) are a perfect side for hot dogs, and even more so when prepared “Alex Style” (topped with chili and cheese).

Tater Tots "Alex Style" at Dirty Frank's

I have to admit, the Fried Leeks ($2) stumped me a bit. I mean, I get the concept and what they’re going after (think blooming onion), but I don’t think it works quite as well in execution. While there were some crispy tasty bits, for the most part, it ended up being a bit greasy and soggy, way messy and confusing to eat (do you use your hands? or a fork and knife?), and way too much waste of perfectly good leeks. It was cool to order it once to try it, but I don’t think that we’ll get this one again. That being said, it does seem to have very vocal fans who order it every time they visit, so it could be a matter of personal preference on my part.

Fried Leeks at Dirty Frank's

Paul opted to get the Beano Dog ($3.75 w/ beef brat), one of their vegetarian offerings, on a beef brat rather than the veggie dog it usually comes with. To both of us, it was reminiscent of really tasty nachos, and we both enjoyed it thoroughly. Our only wish was that the cheddar cheese on top be melted a bit, which would have made a good dog even better.
Beano Dog at Dirty Frank's

Paul, the olive lover, really enjoyed the True Love Always dog ($3.50 w/ jumbo beef dog), which pairs the combination of green olives and cream cheese. I wasn’t a fan (because I don’t like olives very much), but Paul said the cream cheese cut the brininess of the olives perfectly. It was the right amount of olives with the right amount of cream cheese, and struck a needed balance that pulled it all together.

True Love Always Dog at Dirty Frank's

The french fries ($2) here are fresh cut, and were a great receptacle for some added salt and malt vinegar (if you don’t see it on the table, ask for it – they’ll be more than happy to bring you over a bottle). These would also be awesome topped with chili and cheese.

French Fries at Dirty Frank's

The sport-pepper studded macaroni and cheese ($2) was nice and creamy, and perfectly al dente. I would love to see leftover mac and cheese reused the next day in the form of mac and cheese balls rolled in panko and deep fried. A girl can dream, right? ;)

Macaroni and Cheese at Dirty Frank's

We finished things with a shared funnel cake ($2). While it was a bit flatter and more symmetrical than any funnel cake I’ve had before, the flavor was all there and I really appreciated the light hand with the powdered sugar (too often, you end up wearing more than you eat!). Plus, it’s fun to eat fair food in a restaurant.

Funnel Cake at Dirty Frank's

Cocktails at Dirty Franks are fun and imaginative. I really enjoyed the Alabama Slammer on my first visit – it reminded me of hot summers in the late 80′s, back in the days when I did far too much partying for my own good.

I can see why they have such a following – it’s a fun atmosphere, where you ALWAYS see someone you know, it’s affordable, it’s accessible, casual, unpretentious and it’s good. We’ll definitely be back. Often.

If you’d like to go: Dirty Frank’s Hot Dog Palace, 248 S. 4th Street, Columbus, OH 43215, 614.824.4673

Dirty Frank's Hot Dog Palace on Urbanspoon

Blogger Getaway at the Inn at Cedar Falls

We were fortunate enough to be approached by the Inn and Spa at Cedar Falls to take part in a Blogger Getaway at their facility this past weekend – essentially to be a guest of the inn and take part in events (spa treatment, overnight stay, meals and cocktails, etc) that would allow us to experience what they have to offer firsthand, and to hopefully write about it when I got home. So, in the interest of full disclosure, although our only expenses out of pocket were the transportation to get down to the Hocking Hills area and gratuities, this does not affect my final review. This was something we have been contemplating doing for a while anyway – their generosity just made it come to fruition sooner rather than later. And the timing couldn’t be much better. I was in definite need for a day or two of relaxation to decompress and ramp down the stress level.

The Inn at Cedar Falls (Logan, OH)

Since my coverage of the trip will be both picture and text intensive, I’ve decided to put it under a cut so that if it’s something that doesn’t interest you, you can keep scrolling. But I’d love for you to experience the weekend though my eyes, albeit vicariously. If you’re ready, let us begin…

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Review: Western Pancake House

As I’ve said previously, we’re always on the prowl for new breakfast joints; places we can go after our Saturday morning farmers market runs, places where we can get off our feet and enjoy a nice meal and each other’s company. After reading the article in the Dispatch about the reopening of Western Pancake House, we knew we’d have to try it. Even though we’re neither old enough nor have lived in Columbus long enough to remember when this locally based chain existed a couple of decades ago, we were familiar with Mr. Joe Skaggs, the owner of the restaurant. We came to know him when he helped his daughter run Zandy’s Pies on Roberts Rd (gone a few years now), and remembered the fabulous pies that we’ve missed since they’ve closed, and went to the restaurant hoping it would be equally as good.

I think everybody in Columbus had the same idea, because the place was packed – standing room only with a steady flow of customers ready to grab a table the second one opened up. I think the crowds were unexpected, because both the kitchen and wait staff seemed to be “in the weeds” – not quite ready to handle the amount of business because of the inordinate amount of time it took to bus a table once it became free. I’m sure once the novelty dies down, it will be a bit less hectic, but you could tell that the employees were exasperated, ready for the day to end.

The menu is unchanged from the previous incarnation of the restaurant, boasting variations on pancakes, waffles and omelettes with a few other comfort food items thrown in.

Western Pancake House Menu

I chose to get a cheese omelette ($5.49), which came with three pancakes. The cheese omelette was standard diner fare, folded over with processed cheese in the middle. While not spectacular (it was a bit cold when it got to me), it hit the spot. The accompanying pancakes were nice and fluffy, and cooked perfectly. Paired with a bit of buttery spread and some syrup, it was a nice end to a long morning.

Cheese Omelette from Western Pancake House

My husband chose the Western Omelette ($6.29), which had bits of ham and pepper in it. He opted for hash browns instead of pancakes, which had a nice crisp to them even though they were anemic in color compared to most. They definitely suffered from a lack of seasoning, and needed quite a bit of salt and pepper at the table to make them good.

Western Omelette from Western Pancake House

Our other dining companion went for a Pancake Sandwich ($7.49), which is three pancakes with bacon in between, and a couple of eggs on top. While I (personally) prefer that type of meal to be more deconstructed than that (love the individual components, but not so much mashed together), he seemed to love it and ate it with gusto.

I got a side order of hash browns ($1.99) which suffered the same fate as my husbands: nicely crispy, but underseasoned.

Hash Browns from Western Pancake House

Another side order of bacon (not pictured – $2.99), wasn’t as crisp as I like and a bit salty for my tastes, but still edible.

Service was a bit brusque, probably due to the waitress being overwhelmed and pulled into too many directions at once, but this is probably an opening month hiccup and something that will resolve itself in time as the restaurant gets into a groove where either the traffic dies down or they find a way to handle the demand.

In all honesty, it’s not somewhere we’d see ourselves going regularly. For the most part, it’s mediocre diner fare, at a bit of a premium in price. However, it seems to have already drawn it’s fair share of regulars, so it’s firing on all cylinders for some – just not for us. My best advice is to give it a try for yourself. Our group couldn’t reach a consensus on whether it was good food or not, so that tells me it’s a situation of “to each their own”. Now, if they started making those fabulous pies again, we’d be back in a heartbeat. It’s definitely a missed opportunity.

If you’d like to go: Western Pancake House, 4421 Broadway, Grove City.

Review: Caffe DaVinci

In every restaurant I’ve reviewed, no matter what the type, I’ve always tried to look at the positives. Maybe I’ve turned into an Italian food snob. Maybe I expected too much. But unfortunately, I was unable to find a single thing about this restaurant that I liked.

Caffe DaVinci is the next incarnation of the long-running DaVinci Ristorante, which operated at the corner of Reed and Henderson on the city’s northwest side for many many years, until the former funeral home it was housed in was knocked down and the entire corner it was located on was redeveloped to accommodate several new businesses. After a brief period of closure, the same owners opened Caffe DaVinci, a casual eatery in Upper Arlington. We had been to the previous restaurant a few times before for their buffet, which was decent, but never for their sit down menu.

When walking into the building, it isn’t immediately clear what you’re supposed to do next – i.e wait to be seated, go up to the counter to order, etc. so we asked an employee. It turns out that you order at the counter using overhead menu boards, and then they hand you a number which you bring to your chosen table (you seat yourself). When your order is ready, they’ll bring it out to you.

If I were smarter, I would have made a lot less assumptions of what a dish is supposed to be and actually taken the menu quite literally. You’ll see what I’m talking about soon.

Service was competent and pleasant, but not outstanding, although it was a different person every time they came up to us. Our only complaint with regards to the service is that there was absolutely no staging on the courses. Our salads came within a minute, and then within 5 minutes we had our appetizer and entrees as well. This may be a kitchen issue rather than service issue, though.

For an appetizer, we picked the Blue Cheese Chips ($6.95) – it was described as being potato chips with a blue cheese dressing, so I specifically asked, “by blue cheese dressing, do you mean an actual blue cheese salad dressing?” to which she responded “no, it’s chips with an alfredo sauce and then sprinkled with blue cheese and put under a broiler” – I really should have gone with my first impression because I’ll be damned if those chips weren’t covered with a salad dressing of some sort – hard to tell if it was blue cheese or Caesar dressing, but it had the unmistakable vinegary tang of dressing. And hot salad dressing is just gross. If that weren’t bad enough, in the spots where the salad dressing was ladled, it was overly salty to the point of being inedible. If I’m incorrect and that was in fact alfredo, I’m thanking my lucky stars I didn’t order an alfredo based dish, because I’ve had better out of a jar. The chips that weren’t covered with the dressing or blackened and burned weren’t too bad, though. Unfortunately, at almost $7 a pop, I want an appetizer of which I can eat more than half.

Blue Cheese Chips from Caffe DaVinci

If the appetizer left me that underwhelmed, then I died a little bit inside when I got my entree. I opted for the Risotto alla Milanese ($8.95). Correct me if I’m wrong, culinary types – but isn’t a risotto supposed to be made with arborio rice, take at least 30 minutes, and for a Risotto alla Milanese in particular, be a saffron based risotto? In my mind, I pictured a lovely (but perhaps small) serving of nicely al dente risotto with maybe a little meat sauce ladled over the very center and then sprinkled with a little freshly grated Parmesan. I should have known I was in trouble when it came out 5 minutes after I ordered it, and was red all over, and liberally covered with melted mozzarella. On first taste, I knew something was off. After closer inspection, I realized that this definitely was not arborio (arborio grains are not that long), and hell if I’m not unsure if it was even long grain rice at all – if you click on the picture below and look at the large one, you’ll see that the texture of the rice has the strange rat-bitten appearance of Minute Rice. Mushy Minute Rice at that. And the flavor was so overwhelmed by the red sauce that it was like eating meat sauce straight up. This dish was an insult to risotto. Hell, this dish was an insult to rice, period. This was easily one of the worst things I’ve eaten this year.

Risotto alla Milanesa from Caffe DaVinci

We also had higher expectations of Paul’s entree, the Chicago Style Meatball Pizza ($7.95), which turned out to basically a bread bowl filled with meatballs and sauce and topped with cheese. The outer dough was vasty undercooked, and the innards tasted almost exactly like my entree. The meatballs were good, though – I definitely wouldn’t call this dish a pizza by any stretch of the imagination, though.

Chicago Style Meatball Pizza from Caffe DaVinci

We chose to add a Pronto Side Salad ($3.95) to both of our entrees. While the flavor wasn’t bad, the vegetables and lettuces lacked freshness (the cauliflower, in particular, was black/brown in places), and we felt this was an extremely steep price for the quantity and quality of the salad.

Pronto Side Salad from Caffe DaVinci

Needless to say, we won’t be returning. And judging by reviews on Yelp and Urbanspoon, most people clearly like it – just can’t say that we’re among them. Whether it’s because we’ve had too much good Italian to pay for bad or that we ordered the wrong dish, we parted with too much of our hard earned money today for horrible food that I’m not willing to take that chance again.

If you’d like to go: Caffe DaVinci, 3080 Tremont Rd, Columbus, OH 43221, 614-459-9945

Caffe Davinci on Urbanspoon

Review: Grill & Skillet

My family has a weekend tradition – this year, after heading to the farmers markets on Saturday mornings, we’ve been stopping at area restaurants for breakfast, or if it’s been late enough when we got there, brunch or lunch. Grill and Skillet has come recommended to me by a couple of different people, so we decided to give it a try this past weekend.

It’s fairly easy to pass by if you’re not looking. It’s on fairly non-descript stretch of East Main Street, just east of Bexley and on the same block as The Top Steakhouse. Once inside, the decor is a bit dated, composed of slightly ratty booths and a counter. The place definitely shows its age, but sometimes the best food comes from the biggest dives. It’s also the first time I’ve been made as a food blogger/reviewer – our waitress was someone who knew me from our dining out meetup group, so in the interest of full disclosure, that may have affected my experience. Your mileage may vary.

Their menu is your basic diner fare – lots of sandwiches and hot plates, burgers, breakfast items, along with a couple of specials. The coffee drinkers at the table rated the coffee highly. I, because I’ve been on a milkshake kick lately, decided to have a strawberry shake with my breakfast, which is made with Johnson’s ice cream and definitely has that real milkshake flavor. The strawberry flavor wasn’t artificial in the least, and I was thankful that the serving size wasn’t outrageously big. The thickness was ideal, too – not so thin that it was basically strawberry milk, but not so thick that I couldn’t suck it through the straw.

Strawberry Milkshake from Grill & Skillet (Bexley, OH)

I opted for the Country Fried Steak breakfast ($7.25) with a side of bacon ($1.90), which came on no less than 4 separate plates. The chicken fried steak seemed to be battered rather than dredged through flour and fried, and was a bit odd to my palate – kind of reminded me of something that I’d get in a frozen TV dinner because it lacked the texture I normally expect in that dish. My husband, who ate the rest of mine, thought it was just fine, so it just may be a personal preference thing. The sausage gravy on top was good, though.

Chicken Fried Steak from Grill & Skillet (Bexley, OH)

On the other hand, the eggs and hash browns that came with the dish were fan-friggin-tastic. Eggs that were done perfectly (I ordered them over easy and they came out exactly that way), hash browns that were perfectly browned, just the way I like it, and the bacon I ordered was also cooked exactly the way I like it, nice and crispy. My other dining companion who ordered a variation on the same dish agreed that his came out perfectly as well. Their short order cook definitely knows his way around a grill top.

Fried Eggs, Hash Browns & Bacon from Grill & Skillet (Bexley, OH)

And as minor a detail as this is, the toast was the best I’ve had in a while. Dipped into my egg yolk, it was one of the most satisfying things I’ve eaten for breakfast in weeks.

Toast from Grill & Skillet (Bexley, OH)

My husband chose the Mexican Omelette ($6.75), a three egg monster that is stuffed with onions, jalapenos, cheese, sausage, and then covered with salsa. Although it was a bit more browned than I prefer my eggs, it was done exactly to my husband’s liking. It, too, comes with hash browns and toast.

Mexican Omelet from Grill & Skillet (Bexley, OH)

My husband also opted for a side of corned beef hash, which was a little more processed than I like, but the crispiness made up for any sins of a food service grade nature.

Corned Beef Hash from Grill & Skillet (Bexley, OH)

It will take a few more visits to find our ideal order here, but lucky for us, it’s affordable enough for us to do that. There’s not a great amount of variety on the menu, but it’s a credible diner and one of the areas in which they excel is providing you with your food in just the way you want it. We’re eager to return.

If you’d like to go: Grill and Skillet, 2924 E. Main Street, Columbus, OH 43209, 614-231-1702

Grill & Skillet on Urbanspoon