Follow me on Pintrest

Follow Me on Pinterest

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Chase - Columbus, Ohio has its New York Minute

Orchard House Cinnamon Roll Bread Pudding
This is the first installment of ‘The Chase’- First hand accounts of our travel, dining, and really any experience we feel like sharing. 

Our first stop is Columbus, Ohio.

Yes, you read that right, this post is about a trip to the Midwest and how Columbus surprised us with a weekend as exciting as any Manhattan could ever offer.

As it is all too common a habit of east coast city dwellers, I will refrain from any disparaging remarks having to do with preconceived notions about the mid-west. Instead I will fill you in on what we found to be quite the gem of a town, hopefully you find it entertaining and informative....

Ohio Bound

Now you must understand, P's brother is in college in Granville, OH, so we have a reason to go there, we didn't just come up with this on our own (please...). So one free weekend we packed up Harry and his monogrammed tote and headed west. From lift off to touch down was less than an hour, great for us, but rough on Harry as he got off the plane more than a little hungover from his pill, but nonetheless, we were off!

We landed late, hungry, tired from the week, and stressed about how rude it might be to arrive late the tiny B&B we had booked, we started our trip off in a frenzy. From the airport we made our way to Easton. Easton is a mega-mall meets strip-mall meets pedestrian shopping zone, the like of which I imagine can only exist in suburban locales west of the Blue ridges, but either way, it's a major retail and dining destination to which people from all around Ohio flock. Normally this is the kind of place we'd avoid, but as I mentioned, there was an air of desperation around our travels and I really wanted to keep hypoglycemic rage out of the picture.

We pulled into Piada around 9:30pm. I have to admit, we'd been there before on a prior visit, otherwise I wouldn't advise approaching these places blindly. Piada is the brain child of Italian chain maestro Chris Doody (Bravo Brio Restaurant Group), this is his "Italian street food" answer to Chipotle. Without getting into too much detail, I'll just say there was a pressed flat bread, wrapped burrito style around grilled chicken, fresh veggies, creamy parmesean sauce, and pasta (yes pasta) on our plates within 5 mins, who can argue with that?!?

Piada has countless healthier options, with high end ingredients and creative combinations, but we wanted to head right up the caloric ladder, no questions asked. The food was exactly what we needed, but the highlight of the night was the wine. I know wine from "fast food"....scary? swill? delightful? oh so European? who cares! it was $1.50 a glass!!! I couldn't tell you if it was good or not, I don't think it even touched my tongue while I slugged it, but it definitely sealed Piada as the ideal late night, quick bite spot for weary travelers.

We made it to the B&B by 10:30pm. My anxiety about showing up late quickly abated when we were greeted by one of our host/owners, Don, with the biggest smile and warmest welcome anyone can expect at such an hour. The one preconceived notion about the Midwest that is true, is people are nice. Don gave us a brief tour and we quickly took stock of the charming antiques and quaint architecture, then tip-toed into our room. Despite our exhaustion, and our fear of waking our fellow guests, we decided to tempt fate (putting our polite young couple label on the line) and snuck out to meet P’s brother on campus in Granville. Now what happens in Granville, stays in Granville, enough said....

The Orchard House

Orchard House Granville
In the frosty morning light, the Orchard House B&B is really a vision. The sun pours in through the original glass windows, dappling the beautiful floors of the formal parlor and rustic dining room. There is abundant art, that, whether local or not, captures perfectly the bucolic appeal of this rural locale. Harry particularly loved the horse pasture next door, and the abundant farm animals on the property. Llamas, burros, peacocks and of course the resident dogs themselves made for an exciting, if chilly, morning constitutional for all of us.

Don and Andrew, the couple who own the place, run it both as a bed & breakfast and working farm. I have to imagine that in the summer, this place becomes a verdant paradise for anyone enamored with country living. We just happened to come too early in the season (Late March) for any activity in the garden or field.

On a more personal note, not only were we warmly welcomed as a gay couple (one would expect as much from a gay owned establishment, but nice nonetheless) but we also got some of the best sleep of our lives. The cozy room was warm enough to keep out the Ohio chill, all potential ambient light blocked out by heavy curtains, and the mattress was so perfectly firm we almost took the sheets off to check the brand.

Welcoming Committee
If we could have spent the entire weekend at the Orchard House we would have, but we had to get out and explore Columbus eventually.

While our first night was spent at a dorm party, punctuated by shots of 99 black berries and a dance off, our next morning was decidedly more mature. After a hearty farm style breakfast at the Orchard House, we hit up the coffee shop, River Road Coffee. It's a Granville favorite, known for single stream sourcing, indulgent concoctions like the Blueberry Crumble Latte, and LONG LINES. Fortunately, we arrived before the local soft ball team, so we were happy with cups in hand within 5 minutes. My taste in coffee is simple, I like bitter and rich. This hit the spot exactly, and P quite enjoyed his caremelly Americano. We'll leave the dessert like concoctions to those with a strong sweet tooth, and frankly I don't need my coffee reminding me how I can't bake to save my life.





Short North

Short North
Having fueled up on caffeine, we headed into Columbus. The Short North District was our first destination. This area, situated north (surprise) of the Convention Center and centered along N. High Street, is a burgeoning cultural zone set amid up-and-coming residential areas. We found parking quite easily, I was surprised as we’d heard this was the first sunny day all year in Columbus so we expected everyone to be out and about.

With no agenda but to enjoy each other's company and get to know the town with P's brother and his girlfriend, we headed off walking. Our first stop was Tiger Tree. This cool store not only welcomed Harry with open arms, but was a treasure trove of Fred Perry, Scotch & Soda, and all varieties of no-name accessories for the style savvy guy (and girl). The taste level extended to the housewares and vintage furniture on the second floor. Suddenly we knew Columbus had a lot more in store for us than we'd originally thought.

Three Dog Bakery
Next was A Gal Named Cinda Lou, with a name like that, it's no shock that this turned out to be the coolest little vintage boutique. No sooner had we walked through the door then I found myself desperately coveting an original steel grey Eames molded shell chair put on rockers. Small, tidy, and tucked neatly into a corner on High Street, this store is not only a great place to pick through nostalgia inducing treasures, but it is also home to Henry, the most adorable Boston Bull we've ever seen, we had to pull Harry away from him when it was time to leave....

Apparently dog stores are on trend everywhere, because we passed at least 3 before stopping into Three Dog Bakery. Here we found an astonishing array of home baked dog treats, in every shape and size. They are known for their all natural ingredients, gluten free options, and decadent doggie pastry selection that looks like something right out of the finest Parisian patisserie, carob fondant and all. Harry chose to get an assortment of mini treats, sold by the pound, ranging from cheesy chips to oatmeal raisin mini-bones, and I didn’t put up a fight.

Next we headed to National Jean Company, at High and Buttles. We have to admit, there are countless clothing stores, in all of which we easily could have found something wearable, but we just didn’t have the time nor the patience. The NJC space is loft like and airy, with equally as much selection for men as for women (an admirable thing in any market). Customer service was uber-friendly, and low pressure, a departure from the usual and perhaps indicative of the pervading Midwest culture. P found a great pair of dark straight-leg  jeans, but had to decline the complimentary tailoring due to our travel timeline. The price point is right in line with east coast shops, but if you are in Ohio and you want a bit of an high end retail experience buying your $300 denim and ‘one of a kind’ T’s, then Short North has lots of options.

With our requisite apparel purchases under our belt, the hunger hit us.

Earlier in the day I'd over heard a store clerk at Tiger Tree moaning about buttery icing on a cupcake he was eating and somehow had wherewithal to ask the origins of the item. A "booth in a market near the convention center" was all I could recall by them time we’d realized we needed to eat. Sounded risky, but Columbus had impressed so far, so we thought we'd give it a try. 

The whole day we'd been passing cute, rustic, modern, and divey spots that all looked great for a bite. Short North really has it all when it comes to dining options, but we made our way down High Street in search of this as yet unnamed market place.

North Market


As the pangs of hunger matured into full on waves of ravenous anger, we turned the corner of Spruce and Park and there it was! 

The North Market, proximate to a cluster of local college bars and nightlife establishments, was renovated in 1995 and is a major foodie draw. Currently housed in a sprawling warehouse, the market space was originally established in 1876 as one of 4 city markets, but was destroyed by a fire in 1948. With the help of the North Market Development Authority (NMDA) an effort was undertaken to resurrect, protect and further the culinary and cultural tradition of the market in Columbus during the 1980's and 1990's. The NMDAs efforts restored the quality of the market to becomes one of the best in the country, culminating in the opening of the new space at 59 Spruce street in 1995.

We approached cautiously, careful not to get too excited as public markets often disappoint. Like everything else so far on our trip, the market was an overwhelmingly pleasant surprise. P and I were in heaven, we literally jogged through the doors, pointing like tourists (guilty!) at the epicurean delights.  We didn't try it all, so if you want to know about the 30+ merchants and farmers the market has to offer, you'll have to check it out yourself.

I will, however, run down what we enjoyed. We kind of threw together a smorgasbord of a lunch, grabbing a plate, bowl, or basket of whatever caught our eye (don't judge) which made for a delicious and diverse experience.
  • Brēzel - Bavarian pretzel with spicy mustard - perfectly chewy with a salty bite
  • Lan Viet Market - Vietnamese beef, chili sauce, rice, vermicelli, and beans sprouts - Umami noodle fix
  • Holy Smoke BBQ - hand-cut paprika potato chips, smoked pulled chicken (perfectly tangy and rich = two helpings!), mac & cheese, tater tots - this is the spot for comfort food
  • Flavors of India - Lamb masala, garlic naan, and chickpea/pea curry - another umami moment that almost put us over the edge with it's richness and heat
  • Omega Artisan Baking - Moan worthy buttery icing
  • Destination Donuts - buttermilk donut - ultimate weakness (warning, it is a 'daystall' so not always vending)
  • North Market Spices - 5 spice, garam masala, Za'atar, and 'fire salt' to take home - They have everything from cardamom pods to deep red chili powder, a must for any cook or aspiring cook

Back to Short North

Goodale Park
Our appetites sated, and palates exhausted, we headed back to the main drag to see what else Short North had in store. Harry insisted we meander through picturesque Goodale Park, with it’s mature trees and idyllic fountain. P and I were equally as taken with the gorgeous brick Victorians that lined the park in aptly named Victoria Village neighborhood.

Perhaps it was the 99 Black berries the night before (no P I won’t let you forget), or just all the walking, but we soon grew tired, and decided to start heading back to the car. This was until we spotted T. David Collection. Another tiny storefront, this place is a designer’s gathering of home furnishings and accoutrements, not something two gays can simply pass by. We needed our decorating fix and this was perfect. While most pieces were a bit ornate for our taste, we fell in love with a 50's orange tweed side chair, and almost took it home. Our wits about us, we were about to leave when I spotted the most incredible set of 50's ombre silver grade tumblers and collins glasses I had ever seen. For Christmas last year, my best friend had given us champagne ‘coupes’ (wide rimmed and shallow like martini glasses) in the same finish. They look a bit like mercury glass only smooth (not mottled) and graded from bright silver to translucent gray. The T. David set was the perfect complement and at $40 for all 8, it was a steal we couldn't pass up. Glasses in hand, and tablescape triumph in our hearts, we left Short North headed for the German Village and our next Columbus adventure.

German Village

Schmidt's in German Village
This section would be longer, and the neighborhood certainly deserves it, but we have to be honest and say that the day had really gotten the best of us, so we decided to tour this area from the comfort of the car. The German village is a rather large area, centered around 3rd Street and south of downtown, but with most of the charm found in tiny cafes on narrow alleyways or in stately Victorians and quaint bungalows tucked along tree lined streets you really need time to wander on foot. You’ll find the original Max & Erma’s here along with the famous Katzinger’s Deli. We will most certainly be back for a visit to Schmidt's, the neighborhood's ubiquitous German Sausage Haus. Sights seen, and plans made for the next trip, we headed back to Granville for a nap.

We may or may not have stopped at a former Pizza Hut turned Mexican joint in an unnamed town for Margarita’s along the way, but there are some things that should just be left unsaid.

Saturday Night in Columbus

Saturday night started out with a sip of wine and bite of cheese at the Orchard House. P and I planned on taking his brother, his girlfriend, and a friend out for a nice night on the town. Having persevered through the horror that is campus living in our not so distant past, we thought it was a good idea to give them a taste of real life (not to mention P is pretty much the best big brother I know).

Unfortunately, dinner was so so, a random new place in Short North, not worth mentioning by name. It’s really a shame as this marred what could have been a memorable Saturday evening of wining and dining, I guess there’s always next time.... or dessert!

Where this leads us is the chance to say that any time you are in Columbus, or Ohio for that matter, you MUST get custard at Whit’s. Founded in Granville by a local couple in 2003 and with several locations throughout the state, you really have no excuse not to enjoy the smooth, creamy, and never too sweet frozen treats.... In an effort to forget dinner, we tried every flavor, the "Almond Joy" with dark chocolate and coconut that somehow still stays crunchy was transcendent, whups! 


Saturday late-night was spent socializing on campus once again, but this time we all thought better of the fruity shots. We turned in relatively early, mostly on account of Harry’s grumpy attitude (such an old man sometimes) and got another great night’s sleep. We awoke to delicious breakfast of decadent Cinnamon Roll Bread Pudding with country sausage and recounted our adventures with owner/cook Andrew. He’s a former DC gay turned B&B entrepreneur/farmhand, so he has similar sensibilities. What we discovered in our musings is that we really enjoyed our time in Columbus. Perhaps grounded in the comfort we felt just being at the Orchard House, we’d allowed ourselves enjoy a city and a region that we’d never thought would be a stopping point in our busy, urban lives. In doing so, we got to appreciate the value in leaving behind preconceptions of a place and seeing where a city or town can take you. Lucky for us, Columbus has a wealth of the tasteful and tasty for visitors to enjoy, and we will most certainly be back for more.

Notes from the Chase

Below is a list of places mentioned, as well a a few more worth noting:

As if wasn’t clear, we LOVED the Orchard House, and give it a glowing recommendation for anyone headed to the area, or really anyone looking for a romantic, comfortable, countryside getaway. (And they're dog friendly!!!)

No comments:

Post a Comment