Nothing brings hordes of hungry people downtown like the Columbus Food Truck Festival. From its debut five years ago, the eatery-on-wheels celebration has grown into one of the biggest events of the summer. The convoy of trucks from all around the Midwest will set up in the Columbus Commons August 12th and 13th.
Each year is also an opportunity to try out new trucks as they pull up to the bumper of old favorites. Three we’re excited about this year are all locally-grown: and this week we’re talking about Ninja Bowl.
Ninja Bowl has been rolling around the city since the turn of the year and will pull up to the Columbus Food Truck Festival with all bowl menu for meat lovers and veggie folks alike. Add some edamame, harumaki, and gyoza, and you have a passport to Japanese street food. Run by husband and wife, Andre and Amanda Setiawan, you can’t miss their colorful truck wrap making its way across the city.
What inspired Ninja Bowl?My daughter inspired us to open Ninja Bowl because she loves Japanese food. When we watch the The Great Food Truck Race, she is always asking how we can win the prize. And with a food truck, we make our own schedule so we can have family time.
When did you start cooking? I learned to cook since I was little to help my aunt open a restaurant. I got to the United States at the end 1994 and I worked at a Japanese restaurant in New York City and became a head chef in 2004 cooking traditional Japanese, Asian fusion, Japanese fusion, and sushi. In 2012, we moved to Ohio; I was still passionate about cooking. And then I decided to open my food truck to bring my Japanese kitchen on the street.
Are these your own recipes? Our recipes come from my experience working as a chef, and then I alter them in my way to fit in Ohio taste and, of course, to fit in the food truck world.
What’s the best and worst thing about running a food truck? The best thing about owning the food truck is that we can introduce ourselves to clients through food we sell; it is like having the kitchen on the street and it is pretty cool. The hardest thing is moving everyday—I mean, it’s like moving your kitchen everyday.
What’s Ninja Bowl’s signature dish?Our special dish, is our signature/best seller, is the chicken bowl—our special babekyu chicken on the bed of white rice, served with sautéed fresh vegetables and drizzled with our signature teriyaki sauce.
Having grown up in Cleveland, I have long been following James Beard Award winner Chef Johnathon Sawyer. Clevelanders root for the underdogs always (thanks, Browns) and we beam with hometown pride when a fellow Clevelander makes it. When given an opportunity to share their Cleveland pride, a true Clevelander does not shy away. (If you’ve seen celebrity chef and Clevelander Michael Symon on his former show ABC’s The Chew, you know what I’m talking about.)
My father grew up with Chef Sawyer’s father in a Cleveland suburb,
so of course, as natives of The Land do, our family has been rooting
for Sawyer since he was a chef in New York, working with “our own”
Micahael Symon. And when Sawyer came back to Cleveland in 2007,
we couldn’t wait to see how he would elevate the culinary landscape
of his hometown.
And that he did. His concepts The Greenhouse Tavern, Noodlecat and
Trentina helped put Cleveland on the map as a culinary destination. And
now, he’s taken his talents to Columbus with his new concept, SeeSaw.
SeeSaw is billed as a live-fire restaurant and nightlife venue at 906
N High St. in the former Ram Restaurant & Brewery space. Sawyer has
teamed up with Cleveland Indians slugger Jason Kipnis and Forward
Hospitality Group, who own Flipside Burger at Easton Town Center as
well and several nightclubs and restaurants in Cleveland, to bring “wood-
fired modern American shareables” to the Short North. I am a big fan of
the shareables concept, especially when the menu is the brainchild of a
culinary mastermind. I wanted to try as much as I could, so I stuck to the
“for the table” section of the menu for my first visit.
The restaurant’s vibe is hip, but not pretentious. Its bright, open
dining room was flooded with natural light and boasts tall windows and
living wall behind the bar. I couldn’t help but find myself singing along to
TLC’s “Waterfalls” and other 90s hits R&B blaring from the speakers. It’s
not a quiet place, but it’s not supposed to be. The patrons were lively and
the signature cocktails were too.
I started with the Bluebell, a delightful concoction of vodka, triple
sec, blackberry, lemon and rhubarb bitters and aquafaba. I learned that
aquafaba is a vegan legume-based replacement for egg whites that can
be used to make meringues and marshmallows. It was sweet and tart and
downright enjoyable, like lemonade on a warm day.
When I asked the server what he would recommend as a starter, he
suggested the pita with the world-famous edible candle. “Chef would
love to see one on every table,” he said very seriously. The way he said
it, it felt like an order that I should oblige. The candle came to the table
lit and melted down into a pool of mild-flavored beef fat for dipping the
pita. Although I found the whole thing a bit gimmicky, it tasted good and
added to the ambiance of the table. Other patrons stared in wonder and
several asked what it was, generating its own sort of buzz.
Next up was the padron peppers. Although I was taken aback by the
cost for a plate of wood-fired peppers, in retrospect, I would have paid
double. The peppers, while simply prepared, were amazingly earthy,
smokey and the perfect amount of spicy. Sawyer’s live-fire concept is
unique to Columbus and unveils complex flavors in simple vegetables
like cauliflower, broccoli and peppers.
I am a sucker for seafood, particularly scallops, so when I saw the sea
scallops crudo with tiger milk, mezcal and cilantro on the menu, I knew
I had to try it. It arrived at the table almost too beautiful to eat, in a shell-
shaped dish with a shot of mezcal with lime. The stunning presentation
was no match for the flavor of the thinly sliced raw scallops topped with
greens in a milky bath of fresh citrus essence and olive oil.
Finally, the bang bang bang tempura with rock shrimp and yuzu
sauce arrived. It is undoubtedly a different breed of the bang bang shrimp
popularized by several chain restaurants. The shrimp was fresh and
moist inside and crunchy and flavorful on the outside. Likely the most
conventional shareable I tried, it was still a fine and delicious choice.
In an appeal to the brunching sports enthusiasts out there, SeeSaw
also boasts a game day brunch menu, which includes some of the
shareables from the dinner menu along with some breakfast favorites
like the SeeSaw breakfast sandwich and a s’mores style donut. PROTIP:
I enjoyed trying many different shareables instead of a single entree, but I
had heard from several diners that the Ohio grass-fed burger deluxe is one
of the best burgers out there.
After dinner, I ventured up the stunning painted stairs to the
nightclub area, which was not yet open when I visited. The space was
open and beautiful, transitioning seamlessly from bar to dance club to
a hang-out space filled with couches to a rooftop patio. I could picture
it alive and buzzing with nightclub goers, but it seems to be a separate
experience from the restaurant space downstairs.
All in all, SeeSaw offers a unique, although relatable and affordable dining experience in the Short North. The dishes are eclectic enough to intrigue and excite, but also pleasant to the Midwestern palates that yearn for more elevated dining experiences in Columbus.
SeeSaw is located on 906 N High St. For hours and operations,
You go to sleep one night, and seltzer is just the fizzy stuff in big glass bottles that clowns used to hose fools down with in old cartoons. You wake up, and it’s the hottest beverage trend since India Paled its famous Ale (or whatever).
While the drink predates this calendar year, there can be no doubt that the summer of 2019 belonged to hard seltzer. Whether you were getting “Truly” hammered, or disregarding all laws with White Claws, surely these fizzy intoxicants were a fixture at many a summer function you attended.
A hit with the fit crowd for their low calorie count and negligible carbs, the alcoholic seltzer sensation has washed over the nation like a carbonated, mango-flavored tsunami. Popular though they may be, these beverages are not without detractors. One article in the San Francisco Chronicle called spiked seltzers “the summer’s biggest scam,” pointing to the fact that in spite of marketing to the contrary, the drinks are not in fact seltzers, but carbonated malt beverages (like Smirnoff Ice and Zima).
With enormous international companies such as Anheuser Busch
getting in the hard seltzer game, it was only a matter of time until the
forward-thinking minds in our city’s booming beverage scene put their own
stamp on this latest and greatest toastable trend.
While not native to Columbus per se, Cleveland’s Platform Beer Co. has won a spot in the hearts of local craft brew fans thanks to its hoppin’ downtown taproom and the consistent quality of their products. Platform is also one of the prominent regional brands to embrace the spiked seltzer phenomenon wholeheartedly.
Available in six-packs, Platform’s rotating series of hard seltzers features some flavors that will be familiar to regular drinkers of the national brands, such as black cherry. Where the brand finds a leg up on the competition is a slate of unique offerings like Passionfruit, Ginger-Lime, and Blood Orange Yuzu.
Platform’s seltzers clock in at the industry standard 5% ABV, and
retain the same near-clear, bubbly appearance as most competitors. While
a respected craft brewery dipping a toe in this segment might get the
mustaches of snobbish craft beer purists twirling, Platform has never been
known for playing it safe—and they’re not the only ones.
Seventh Son Brewing sports ample draft handles in their multi-tiered taproom, giving pilot batches of “out there” brews a place to shine among the pleasing regular lineup. With so much room for experimentation, it’s no wonder that Seventh Son has cracked the hard seltzer puzzle.
A departure from the norm in several ways, Seventh Son’s “Kitty Paw” is a raspberry-flavored seltzer crafted with 100% real fruit juice and zero artificial colors or flavors added. The striking pinkish hue of this feline- inspired booze water also helps Seventh Son’s creation stand out from the pack. Opaque and bursting with tart berry flavors, Kitty Paw should be a hit with fans of fruit-flavored lambic beers. Available on-tap only, this initial offering is just the first of a planned series of hard seltzers being cooked up by the Seventh Son team.
No hard look at hard seltzer would be complete without mention of Four Loko, the “blackout in a can” hooch concocted by a group of OSU grads that mixed copious amounts of caffeine (since removed from the recipe) with alcohol, fueling all of your worst college-era mistakes.
If the notion of alcoholic water at first seemed too absurd to believe, leave it to Four Loko to take that absurdity to the most extreme possible end. In a Twitter post dated to August 11, 2019, the company teased their own accursed foray into the hard water game with a beverage that would pair “a hint of blue razz” with a daunting 14% ABV. At the time of this writing, no such drink has appeared on store shelves, for better or worse (...better).
[Update: After much delay, Four Loko announced the release of its hard seltzer product—a 12% ABV black cherry-flavored drink—on November 5, 2019.]
Only time will tell if spiked sparkling water will make the move from
passing fad to permanent grocery cooler staple. Refreshing and all-too-
crushable by nature, typically gluten-free, and with a fraction of the calories
of even the lightest beer, it’s easy to see why summer drinkers were drawn
to the spiked watering hole in droves. With companies big and small
experimenting in this increasingly-crowded segment, water may just be the
hottest new beverage in town.
It takes more than glass mugs and an umlaut to make an authentic
German biergarten. Columbus has no shortage of beer or brats, and
our undeniable ethnic heritage puts the bar pretty high for anyone
tempted to tap into the old country without seeming opportunistic or
insincere. That’s why Gemüt Biergarten was so long in coming, and well
worth the wait.
Inspired by their travels and smitten with the sense of community found among the biergarten scene in Germany, Chelsea Rennie and Kyle Hofmeister knew they wanted to build something together that balanced business and ambition with family and friends. Even their pending wedding didn’t diminish or defer their dream. They were in it together— for better or “wurst.” But they soon found themselves sharing that vision. Rob Camstra and Nick Guyton, already acquainted and formerly of Four String, pitched the couple on brewing their own beer on-site instead of simply offering imports and an authentic atmosphere. The idea made financial sense and the fit was fortuitous, as the four found their talents and experience so complementary. A new partnership was obvious and inevitable. Finding the right place proved more challenging.
“We always wanted to be in Olde Towne East; we all live here. But after a year of site selection, we just kept hitting walls,” recalled Rennie, Creative Director for Gemüt Biergarten. Her husband Hofmeister serves as CEO, with Camstra as Director of Brewing Operations and Guyton as Head Brewer. All are co-owners. “We knew wherever the brewery would be, it had to be on solid ground. Everywhere we looked was heavily critiqued. We had to know how much weight the floors could hold, or if we could add onto the building.”
The search slowly expanded, at one point including an old firehouse off South Parsons. But ultimately the building that was once the Columbus Music Hall, also a former firehouse, offered the old bones, ample parking, poured slab, and an enormous outdoor courtyard to complete the allocation of essential spaces. However, firehouses can be complicated retrofits, often as immutable as they are beautiful. Intricate stained glass and warm wooden features now soften the stark utility. The interior isn’t simply transformed; it transports you to another continent. Astute patrons can still spot where the old truck doors used to be, and aside from some subtle architectural cues, Gemüt looks and feels like it was transplanted intact straight from Germany in a giant crate labeled, “Biergarten: Just add Water, Hops, Malt, and Yeast.”
But biergartens aren’t built overnight, and long-awaited is also a polite euphemism for long-delayed. Unforeseen factors contributed to an opening that led into Oktoberfest more by accident than intent. The federal government shutdown earlier this year pushed Gemüt’s brewing operation back months, followed by a liquor permit fiasco that forced a last-minute cancellation of their soft open. Neither scenario is unique, or even uncommon, but the team’s collective experience in both the brewing and restaurant industry helped adjust expectations, avert disaster, and push forward.
“The building was empty for 10 years, so there were some changes in zoning that popped. We were actually ahead of schedule, and then it became a waiting game,” she revealed. “We submitted the paperwork for our brewer’s license in December, but because of backlog from the government shutdown, we didn’t get it approved until July. There were months when we had no idea when we would start brewing or finally open.”
Beer is essentially bread you can drink, but it takes more than an hour in the oven, and time is the only commodity you can’t buy at any price. However, delays sometimes offer a silver lining, getting to revise, refine, and set the stage for a well-oiled opening instead of a hurried or haphazard one. Executive Chef Adam Yoho’s menu continued to evolve just as Jeni Van Hemert’s expertise as Operations Director helped keep the entire project on track without letting the focus on customer experience suffer, despite bureaucratic interruptions that were unavoidably out of their hands.
“It seemed like we were constantly waiting. It was a curse, and a blessing,” Rennie conceded. “We had more time to organize, as uncertain as it was. We just made it work, and when we finally opened, we could enjoy it with family and friends without the stress we expected.”
The menu still isn’t static, but it certainly isn’t your typical bar food, with seasonal offerings complementing traditional standards and a credible beer selection. Rennie’s Macedonian family recipes make an appearance among a variety of chef exclusive wursts from The Butcher & Grocer, signature schnitzel, even a double-boned 20-ounce pork chop and a confit Cornish hen. Gluten-free and vegan options from Pierogi Mountain round out a menu with something for everyone. A wide wine choice, clever cocktails, and unexpected punches are served alongside their authentic German-style beers. The “Woden’s Hunt Dunkel” proved so popular, they actually blew through 30 barrels in just three weeks. Brunch specials on the weekends have already made it the breakfast brewery of choice among those seeking something hearty and heady.
“We may consider a larger commercial kitchen or additional brewing space elsewhere. There will only be one Gemüt, but we’re already considering future concepts,” she revealed. “Because we had such support from our investors, it allowed us to get everything we needed upfront. We never planned on a second phase, with construction interrupting operations after we opened. But this was always meant to be the stepping off point for the next project.”
Even among the owners, there’s an exceptional egalitarianism rare among restaurants and taprooms, the absence of which tends to undermine operations before the first plate or pint is served. The room for individual expression and unnamed passion projects already brewing is a fitting metaphor for the name that emerged late in the planning process, but on time and on brand.
“We knew we got it right when we opened and people instinctively started sharing tables, meeting neighbors they didn’t know. Gemüt is short for ‘gemütlichkeit’, which is the feeling you get in a biergarten. It’s about community and acceptance,” Rennie revealed. “In Germany, at a biergarten, everyone’s equal regardless of social status, income, occupation—you let all of that go. It’s about coming to drink and eat and celebrate together.”
Gemüt Biergarten is located at 734 Oak Street. For hours and
operations, visit gemutbiergarten.com.