Connect with us

Alt Dining

Reinventing the Meal: Better Veg

Has the test market city, once seemingly home to the most fast food restaurants per square mile, finally drank the Kale-Aid? If you’re keeping up with the trends—and we are, it’s what we do—you’ll notice a green wave washing over Columbus. We’re already starting to feel better—about our own health and that of the community. [...]
Jeni Ruisch

Published

on

Has the test market city, once seemingly home to the most fast food restaurants per square mile, finally drank the Kale-Aid?

If you’re keeping up with the trends—and we are, it’s what we do—you’ll notice a green wave washing over Columbus. We’re already starting to feel better—about our own health and that of the community.

Two Dollar Radio is like that cool friend that introduces you to all the people and things You Need To Know. Just hanging out with them is enough to absorb by osmosis the knowledge of what is cool and good. In addition to being an indie publishing company, TDR headquarters has a plant-based cafe chock full of veggie dishes for those who eschew animal products on their plates.

In addition to their cafe, TDR hosts an array of local, plant-based food ventures as food trucks or pop-ups. Headed by a former pastry chef, and first stationed at Platform Brewing Co., Freaks and Leeks is now going a year strong in the vegan scene. Tofu Louie can bang out gluten free buns for their “Don’t pull on no pork” vegan sandwiches, which are soy-free and made with portabella and king oyster mushrooms, Carolina-style sauce, creamy slaw, and topped with sweet potato crunchies. Village Taco pulls up to TDR once a month, toting its vegan Mexican fare, and something called “Crack Taters” that are causing quite a stir. Their rave reviews are no doubt part of the success they’ve met, which has landed them a storefront in Alexandria. Don’t worry, though, they’ll still be oot and aboot with the food truck in the capital city. The Little Kitchen is a plant-based array on wheels that caters to vegans, vegetarians, and even you omnivores. Willowbeez Soul Veg is a family-owned operation that debuted in 2012. They serve health-conscious vegetarian food with more than a little bit of soul.

The green wave appears to be washing over Parsons. Across the street at 945 Parsons Ave., All People’s Fresh Market opened to much fanfare. Housed in a former beer and wine drive-through, APFM works in conjunction with the Mid-Ohio Food Bank. It’s a place where South Side residents can come in and get fresh produce for themselves and their families. The market is open to the public, and those below 200 percent of the poverty line will never pay for food.

Take High Street north to Campus, and the green goes on. Eden Burger specializes in a no beef burger made with rice, beans, pumpkin seeds, oats, and spices. Rounding out their veg menu are wraps, sides, and shakes that won’t bust your belt. Up in the crunchy corridors of Clintonville, Columbus’s newest niche grocery is helping you stay fresh, chock full of the freshest picks from local farms and beyond. Little Eater is a home base for those who want to support local, but they have plenty of extras from outside the heartland, like avocados. Not only can you stop by to stock up, their knowledgeable staff can help you decide what to make for dinner!

Continue Reading

Alt Dining

Chains of Love

Before Columbus was nationally known for its neighborhood haunts and dinky little dives, we spent decades as an incubator for fast food fads that came, cooked, and conquered. Not all went on to become household names. Some struggled to fend off their restaurant rivals. Some were unable to adapt to changing tastes and trends. Some [...]
J.R. McMillan

Published

on

Before Columbus was nationally known for its neighborhood haunts and dinky little dives, we spent decades as an incubator for fast food fads that came, cooked, and conquered.

Not all went on to become household names. Some struggled to fend off their restaurant rivals. Some were unable to adapt to changing tastes and trends. Some simply spread themselves too thin. Inevitably, their franchise empires fell.

Loyal locals have helped a few far-flung outposts of these once thriving Columbus culinary colonies survive long after the clown and the crown conspired to kill anything original about fast food—and four are still just a road trip away.

Frostop Drive-In

From American Graffiti to Dazed and Confused, the drive-in restaurant is still a cinematic experience. Though Sonic seemed to reintroduce the concept in recent years, Frostop was one of the first, founded in Springfield, Ohio in the 1920s before moving to Columbus. The checkerboard facade and neon sign define the era, but the giant rotating root beer mug on the roof remains as iconic as any golden arches. Built around the same soda stand standards G.D. Ritzy’s echoed decades later, Frostop is the real deal. So it should come as no surprise the nearest one is also in Huntington, WV — in fact, about a hundred yards down the same road. Teenagers and old-timers still flock there in hot rods and station wagons for footlongs and a frosted mug of sweet suds. Though the retail brand has been revived and expanded to include cream sodas and sarsaparilla, nothing beats grabbing a cold growler to take home from one of their few surviving root beer stands. Nearest fix: 1449 Hal Greer Blvd, Huntington, WV 25701 

G.D. Ritzy’s

Despite a deeper menu than its contemporaries, the pop shop nostalgia was perhaps ahead of its time. Their thin, crispy-edged burgers and ice cream parlor vibe are strikingly similar to Steak ‘n Shake, founded in Illinois nearly a half century earlier. But Graydon Webb, a former Wendy’s exec, was all in on the idea of premium sandwiches and sundaes under one roof. For a while, it worked, and not just with unexpected flavors like French Quarter Praline, Amaretto Cherry, and Kentucky Fudge Pecan Pie. People Magazine once declared G.D. Ritzy’s had the best chocolate ice cream in the country.

But the early ’80s were a fickle cultural concoction for more than just fast food, and a throwback joint that was more Frankie Valli than Flock of Seagulls was a one-hit wonder with the kids. Most of the remaining G.D. Ritzy’s locations in Columbus became Rally’s, many still sporting their distinctive tin awnings. But Graydon is giving it another go in Clintonville with a new “Ritzy’s” scheduled to open this spring featuring a lot of ’50s fare and flare.

If you can’t wait, or just want to see how it all started, the nearest original G.D. Ritzy’s is going strong in Huntington, WV, offering the same menu of signature burgers, well-dressed hot dogs, thin-cut fries, Cincinnati-style chili, and those famous scoops that still have a faithful following. Not far from the campus of Marshall University, the kids finally figured out what their grandparents knew all along, but their parents didn’t—everything really does go better with ice cream. Nearest fix (for now): 1335 Hal Greer Boulevard, Huntington, WV

Arthur Treacher’s

A fish and chips franchise seems more like an import than an export from Ohio, but in 1969, a handful of Columbus investors (including Dave Thomas) took a hint from Bob Hope and recruited British character actor Arthur Treacher to be the face of their new seafood venture. Founded the same year as Long John Silver’s, in equally unlikely Lexington, Kentucky, Arthur Treacher’s was decidedly more London than Robert Louis Stevenson in its aesthetic. In their heyday of the late ’70s, the restaurant was fast approaching a thousand locations. Today, there are just seven.

Though the three on Long Island are essentially Nathan’s hot dog stands that also sell fish and hush puppies, the four in suburban Cleveland are time capsules of what once was. The Garfield Heights location still has a sign with the actual Arthur Treacher, whose face and fish are even less familiar to millennials than Bob Hope. But if you’re looking for your malt vinegar fix a little closer to home, follow the familiar looking lantern to Marino’s Seafood Fish & Chips in Grandview where the tradition lives on under another name. Nearest fix: 926 E. Waterloo Rd, Akron; 1833 State Rd, Cuyahoga Falls; 2 Youngstown Warren Rd, Pinetree Square, Niles; 12585 Rockside Rd, Garfield Heights.

Rax Roast Beef

You wouldn’t expect a western-inspired, meat-themed monopoly to emerge in Ohio—much less two. But on the heels of Arby’s 1964 launch in Boardman, Jack Roschman answered with Jax Roast Beef in 1967. Several mergers later, the Rax brand was born in Columbus. Unlike Arby’s, whose phonetic name is an abbreviation for roast beef (R.B. – get it?), Rax was all over the map, opening new locations and trying to find a broader appeal in a crowded fast food field.

They added baked potatoes as an alternative to fries. The salad bar didn’t seem that silly. Even Wendy’s tried that gimmick for a while. Rax also added pizza, pasta, and tacos to it, not unlike Wendy’s short-lived “SuperBar.” Both ideas met a swift and similar fate. But the redhead rebounded, and Uncle Alligator didn’t. They refocused on their core menu at the handful that remained, though they never quite escaped the appearance, or actuality, that if you’re going to knock off an idea, you’d better do it better or not at all.

If you still get an occasional hankering for a Mushroom Melt and a little cup of cheese to dip your fries, there are still two (of the remaining eight) fairly close. Nearest fix: 800 E Main St, Lancaster; 23923 US Route 23 South, Circleville.

Continue Reading

Alt Dining

Reinventing the Meal: Seafood Boils

Abucket arrives table side. No plates, forks or knives on the table—only butcher’s paper spread from edge to edge. A clear oven bag is pulled from the bucket, untied, and upended. An avalanche of sweet and savory morsels spills out onto the table paper. A rainbow of pink, white, and red steamed sea creatures settles [...]
Jeni Ruisch

Published

on

Abucket arrives table side. No plates, forks or knives on the table—only butcher’s paper spread from edge to edge. A clear oven bag is pulled from the bucket, untied, and upended. An avalanche of sweet and savory morsels spills out onto the table paper. A rainbow of pink, white, and red steamed sea creatures settles in a pile with corn, potatoes, sausage, and striped mussels. Fragrant, buttery garlic sauce envelops everything, pooling on the paper and in the clam shells. Bibs on, we dive in. The huge rosy prawns are easily peeled, and provided industrial tools help us crack open the armor of the more formidable crustaceans. Wrestling briefly with a fan of crab legs produces a fist-sized lump of meat. I drag it through the puddle of spiced garlic butter in front of me, and sink my teeth into the sweet white flesh.

Damn, it feels good to be a barbarian. 

At Kai’s Crab Boil, you’re encouraged to dive in and get your hands dirty. Co-owner Tiffany Cho sings the praises of getting up-close and personal with your seafood.

“It adds that fun factor. You’re always told don’t play with your food, you have to use your knife and fork. But here you get to eat with your hands; we encourage that …. we encourage you to get messy. That’s why we have the big wash sinks; it works a lot better than those little wet naps.”

Central Ohio now has two more communal, eat-off-the-table style crab boil restaurants than it did a year ago–which back then was zero—both on Bethel Road. Though Columbus may be home to multitudinous seafood lovers, there’s little chance of us becoming known as a seafood city when we have exactly no maritime real estate. But a mix of modern technology, a little bit of gumption, well-timed ordering practices, and a seafood vacuum to fill mean that Columbusites now have the opportunity to try a smorgasbord relatively new to the Midwest. And a new kind of food means a new way to eat.

“That’s what this whole thing’s about,” says co-owner Kai Sheng, “different eating experiences. You have to use your hands. You have to get messy.”

Kai’s isn’t the only place to get your fingers buttered. Nearby, Boiling Seafood has an eat-off-the-table option, as well. They also serve sandwiches and individual entrees for those of you that want a cleaner experience with your ocean critters.

Outside of obvious restaurant challenges like serving customers and keeping a clean shop, a seafood restaurant like Kai’s or Boiling Seafood has to do a careful dance with their living inventory. Lobsters, dungeness crabs, mussels, clams, and crawfish all arrive live, and hang out in a freezer for their short stay where they reach a hibernative state, but remain very much alive.

“Once we do get it in, it sells out so quickly,” says Cho. “Especially with the crawfish, we were surprised with how much demand there was for [them] in Ohio. With crawfish, there’s a season, so you can’t always get a lot. With our vendors and sourcing everything, we have to make sure we get enough, but we don’t want to get too much and have live items die. So it’s managing that balance.”

Despite its distance from the ocean, Columbus actually has few hurdles to becoming a “seafood city.” It just takes strategy. Getting the items onto ice and into shipment can have them at a central Ohio doorstep in less than a day from being caught. The rest is about predicting sales, and knowing your product. Running a seafood restaurant requires Sheng and Cho to be business people with a keen knowledge of biology, anatomy, and geography. Relying on wild caught animal populations means your stock changes with season and migration habits. Blue crabs come from the east coast of the U.S., while king crabs will be shipped in from varying spots around the Pacific rim, depending on the time of year. Late spring and early summer brings the flood of crawfish from Louisiana.

Only open a month at the time of writing, Kai’s has been flush with customers so far. An evening at Boiling Seafood will bring bib-covered patrons many a shell to crack. It’s no mystery that this tradition of eating with your hands and abandon brings a buttery smile to Columbus faces.

Kai’s is located at 839 Bethel Rd. and Boiling Seafood is down the street at 1446 Bethel Rd.

Continue Reading

Alt Dining

Hidden Menu

It seems counterintuitive in the competitive Columbus culinary scene for a restaurant to willfully remain below the radar. Even neighborhood joints advertise a little, if only through carryout coupons or flimsy flyers. But some places survive and thrive on reputation alone. That’s why sometimes you go out for groceries and stumble into an undiscovered restaurant [...]
J.R. McMillan

Published

on

It seems counterintuitive in the competitive Columbus culinary scene for a restaurant to willfully remain below the radar. Even neighborhood joints advertise a little, if only through carryout coupons or flimsy flyers.

But some places survive and thrive on reputation alone. That’s why sometimes you go out for groceries and stumble into an undiscovered restaurant waiting within. Saraga International Market on Morse Road is host to Momo Ghar, whose handmade dumplings have turned the former Toys R’ Us into a hot spot for Himalayan home-cooking. The much beloved Westgate Import Market once disguised one of the best Thai take-outs in town. Both pulled in patrons from well beyond their backyards. They epitomize destination dining for adventurous eaters willing to take a chance on a place that isn’t worried about whether their scant ambiance will earn them four stars or a nod from Fodor’s.

Sadly, Westgate’s Pad Thai street cred has faded slightly since the import market’s counter closed for good, much to the lament of the locals. But you can still find your fix just a few blocks west on Sullivant at Luc’s Asian Market.

Don’t let the “Groceries & Gifts” sign out front fool you. Though mostly Vietnamese and Cambodian, the menu of more than a dozen dishes features the same influences and ingredients that line the aisles. With only a smattering of seats, it would be easy to grab a bánh mì to go. But made-to-order appetizers and entrees are worth the wait. Though commonly considered a Thai standard, spicy beef salad is a bit of a regional dish originating from Northeast Thailand, right where its borders with Vietnam and Cambodia converge. Savory strips of beef served with a pungent punch of red onion, cilantro, and ginger-lime dressing are the refreshing, grilled summer favorite you didn’t know you were missing. Early kitchen hours also mean bánh khot might make a great late breakfast—fluffy rice flour, turmeric, and coconut milk pancake puffs with a sweet sauce on the side are reason enough to be a little late for work.

Around the corner, across from the casino, is La Plaza Tapatia, a supermercado of sorts that anchors the Westside’s booming Latino community. Once the only Mexican buffet in town, the focus has shifted toward servers and tables, which are ample—except on the weekends when families gather and mariachis move throughout the town square inspired interior. If not for the music to lure you in, you might miss the modest entrance entirely on your way to the grocery.

Though there are plenty of dishes Americans have come to expect from an increasingly familiar menu, be sure to explore the less common ones as well. Nopalitos are an easy and interesting departure for the uninitiated. The formerly thorny cactus has a taste and texture a little like okra, with a hint of stuffed green pepper. Their molcajete may be unmatched anywhere in Columbus.

The matte black volcanic vessel is huge and piled high with a mixed grill of beef, chicken, pork, shrimp, and chorizo complemented by peppers, onions, and an endless supply of fresh-pressed corn tortillas. Even if you share it, expect to leave with leftovers.

A little farther north, tucked away on Trabue between Rome-Hilliard and 270 is a Midwest seafood market that mimics the memories of my youth. When you grow up near the Chesapeake Bay, blue crabs are as ordinary as macaroni and cheese. But when you move inland, you realize you rarely find that fresh-off-the-boat flavor anymore.

So when you go out for seafood at one of Central Ohio’s better restaurants, you can probably thank Frank.

That would be owner Frank Gonzalez of Frank’s Fish and Seafood Market, whose commercial enterprise also supplies restaurants in Dayton, Cincinnati, and Northern Kentucky with the best catch. After nearly three decades, the same wide smile and firm handshake that greets wholesale and retail patrons alike still beams with pride over his latest endeavor.

Now a few years in, the tiny take-out hiding inside is still unknown to many — and it’s truly their loss. Almost all of the square footage supplied by the former offices and conference room went into the kitchen, with only enough space remaining for a two-top, a four-top, four stools and a counter.

Ten seats, that’s it. A football team could fill the place and still leave the quarterback standing.

But that’s a metaphor for the entire operation. Frank’s unlikely expansion from commercial to retail, and then to a restaurant all seemed to lack enough space. But somehow he made it work—with patio seating that pushes the dining capacity closer to 70 during better weather, a curated wine room that should be the envy of any sommelier, and an unrivaled selection of hundreds of fresh, frozen, and smoked fish, seafood, and chef-quality meats—all under one roof.

Whether you crave a working-class fried oyster po’ boy and peel-and-eat shrimp by the bucket, or your tastes lean more toward a “pick-your-catch” sandwich (of perch, catfish, or cod) and salmon cakes with corn, tomato, and black bean chutney, there is something for every appetite and palette. Even the kid’s menu has grilled shrimp on it.

But don’t mistake Frank’s diminutive diner for just a summertime stop. Hearty clam chowder and glorious gumbo so thick with Andouille, shrimp, crab, and crawfish you can stand up a spoon in it, both served with creole seasoned flatbread, will warm your soul year round. And their “small plates” include an order of FIVE lamb chops with a sweet Thai chili glaze. Everything on the menu begs to be shared, whether you want to or not. So just order a few items and enjoy an intimate date night at the only table for two — or order a few more and dine family-style with a group of friends and fill every seat.

Either way, Frank’s will have you hooked.

For more, visit franksfishandseafoodmarket.com.

Continue Reading
X