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Beyond The Baked Potato

The appeal of spring, summer and fall vegetables, with their bright colors and light textures, is an undeniable sign of freshness and bounty. Winter veggies stored away in a root cellar? Less romantic. But that doesn’t stop Columbus restaurants from employing some creativity so that you can eat local year-round. Celeriac is one of those [...]
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The appeal of spring, summer and fall vegetables, with their bright colors and light textures, is an undeniable sign of freshness and bounty. Winter veggies stored away in a root cellar? Less romantic. But that doesn’t stop Columbus restaurants from employing some creativity so that you can eat local year-round.

Celeriac is one of those strange root vegetables that find their way onto produce shelves when the weather turns chilly. It has a bulbous, white-ish bottom with small roots hanging onto it and leafy celery-like stalks growing from the top. But unlike those who may be bewildered by this vegetable, also known as celery root, Rockmill Tavern Chef Jay Kleven has a secret love for it.

“We prefer more challenging roots, tubers and rhizomes,” Kleven said. “How do we get people to enjoy vegetables that are hearty and sometimes not full of flavor? How do we transform those things so we get a product that really highlights wintertime and highlights cuddling up and staying warm and that hearty feeling in your belly?”

He and the team at Rockmill recently took celeriac, covered it with beef tallow and barbecued it with Saison Noir beer and smoked shoyu. The dish turned out chewy, like meat.

Besides Rockmill, restaurants around Columbus are finding creative ways to serve fresh, savory and flavorful food with their winter produce. Motivated by a need to find the best-tasting ingredients, a drive to experiment with new recipes and a desire to support the local economy, chefs like Kleven are developing dishes their guests can indulge in for a bit of warmth this winter.

Sangeeta Lakhani, owner and executive chef of The Table, says eating locally and seasonally provides better taste, texture and nutritional value—a tomato in the summer, for example, is far superior to a tomato in the winter. It also supports Ohio farmers, who may need to find ways to sell their produce year-long.

“I don’t really know if there’s another way to eat if we want this world to survive,” Lakhani says. “You have to be more flexible with your palette and how you cook because…[farmers] have to also stay in business throughout the year, and if you stop eating what’s in season that means you’re buying stuff at grocery stores that came from wherever.”

Lakhani’s favorite ingredient to cook with in the winter is squash; she loves the different varieties with their wide range of flavors and textures. This year, she has a new seafood dish: Arctic Char with kabocha squash, apples, fennel and pickled mustard seeds. Spaghetti squash, she finds, is a convenient alternative for gluten-free noodles. Of all her dishes that showcase this gourd, at the top of her list is roasted acorn squash stuffed with quinoa, mushrooms, thyme and a sherry-sage brie bechamel. She’s experimenting with a yam or sweet potato mousse for the brunch menu, maybe with togarashi, tare and cured eggs.
Squash is a common ingredient for trial and error at Rockmill too. There, the team has been pickling, fermenting and curing all fall to get ready for a long winter. Kleven says one of their projects has been wrapping delicata, butternut and acorn squashes in a housemade butter and koji and curing them for up to a month. He has a rotating variety of squashes rolled in a miso compound topped with seasonal veggies as an alternative to a leafy salad.

Meanwhile, over at The Guild House, executive chef John Paul Iacobucci is fermenting butternut squash, which he says ends up looking and tasting a bit like mango.

“When our local farmers do come by, we try and just pick up what they have and then challenge ourselves to make whatever we can out of it,” Iacobucci said.

But winter produce is a wide umbrella. The Guild House has a seafood dish with roasted rutabaga and brussel sprout leaves. The restaurant also serves a shredded cauliflower side and pumpkin soup with enhanced sweetness and creaminess thanks to coconut milk. Rockmill has a heritage carrot dish in which they heat carrots in carrot juice with a little bit of ginger and fresh apple cider for

“When our local farmers do come by, we try and just pick up what they have and then challenge ourselves to make whatever we can out of it.”

Lakhani loves using persimmons in the winter, and she substituted them into a duck dish served with wild rice and, in the summer, peaches. She has a small plate with beets, burrata and a blood orange marmalade.

Although some winter produce might takes a little extra care and creativity to bring out its potential, and although larger tubers and squashed might need a few moments to cook down, Kleven recommends an easy and a favorite technique for all winter vegetables: roasting.

“Practice that old French method of set it and forget it,” Kleven said. “Then you develop these really complex earthy flavor palettes that you can add to whole meals as a substitute for your vegetables.”

For him, the best way to roast a vegetable like squash is, on a sheet tray without oil, to douse it in an interesting spice and a bit of salt, and set it right on the oven rack on a low heat or a long time. Iacobucci’s recommendation was even simpler: clean the seeds out, add some butter and salt and throw it in the oven. He says it goes great with pork, fish steak and chicken.

“Especially in the Midwest, people tend to use winter produce a lot more than they use summer produce. We are a meat and potato country,” Lakhani said. “People have an easier time with cooking stews and baking potatoes and sweet potato with marshmallows or whatever…they just need to expand that into adding more flavor like adding ginger or turmeric or garlic.”

Adding the right spices, Lakhani says, doesn’t mean the food needs to be spicy to get some taste buds dancing. Those curious veggies sitting on shelves and in crates could be the perfect canvas on which to experiment with some new flavors.

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Food & Drink

3 bar trivia spots for weeknight fun

Mike Thomas

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“Man, you guys suck!” The trivia host said as he came by our table table to retrieve his brightly colored buzzer. He wasn’t wrong. My friend/trivia partner and I probably should have had less to drink. We probably should have been playing closer attention to the questions, or stopped second-guessing ourselves into wrong answers. Now, the contest was over, and our chances at a $10 bar tab were utterly dashed. Of the six or so teams competing, we came in dead last.

In recent years, bar trivia has emerged as a popular pastime for bar patrons to put their knowledge to the test in a quiz show format, complete with dynamic and entertaining hosts. In these contests, teams which typically consist of a handful of friends, vye against each other for meager prizes—usually a small amount knocked off of the winning team’s bar bill. As my luckless friend and I quickly learned, it’s a form of entertainment where only the fast and the nerdy survive. 

Photos by Rebecca Tien

Like karaoke, bar trivia offers participants a chance do something at their local watering hole besides pound drinks. Bars are eager for something to draw customers on the slower nights of the week, and contestants get the chance to put their pop culture knowledge to work. But what kind of person goes to a bar on a weeknight to mentally dominate drunk strangers?

“In my opinion, there’s trivia people, and then there’s not,” explains John Egbert, who hosts several trivia nights each week for the company Excess Trivia (it was Egbert who chided my friend and I that evening when we completely bombed). “I have a lot of people sign up just to try it, and quickly realize it’s not for them.” 

By day, Egbert is a working artist—he recently designed beer labels for Columbus’ Elevator Brewing. By night, he leads bar patrons through rounds of buzzer-style (think Jeopardy) and multiple-choice rounds of trivia in his role as host.

“When I started this I wasn’t a trivia guy. I did not have fun playing Trivial Pursuit; I didn’t watch Jeopardy,” Egbert says of his beginnings in what has become a full-time pursuit. He only fell in love with trivia after tiring of his onetime role of karaoke host. 

“I felt like with karaoke, one of the downsides was dealing with really busy nights and everybody wanting to sing—and not wanting to wait to sing,” Egbert explains. “With trivia, everybody gets to play at the same time. Everybody gets to be the star.”

If public recognition is a motivator for their audience, you have to wonder what would inspire Egbert and his fellow hosts to choose this unique vocation.

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Jason “Squirrel” Davis runs his own trivia company, currently hosting three nights each week at local bars. He is perhaps best known for his first and longest running show at The Gateway Film Center. By day, he works in the accounts payable department at Capital University.  

For Davis, it’s the chance to stretch his legs as an entertainer in a way not afforded to him in his day job that keeps him coming back. “As a host, it’s the performance aspect,” Davis explains. “I like to think I’m funny. My style is more of a fun game. For the teams, it’s more about fun than the challenge.”

To Mike Durst, who like Egbert is among the dozen or so hosts employed by Excess Trivia, it’s the social dimension that makes the work appealing. 

“It’s pretty much my entire social life. My social circle has basically turned into people I know through trivia,” says Durst. “It’s nice, I get to go to work and know that I’ll see friends of mine and have a couple of beers and see what’s going on in their lives the past week.”

Davis’ sentiments are shared by Egbert, who also appreciates the opportunities for socialization that trivia affords to host and player alike. “I’m pretty selfish about it. I look at it like, it’s my night too, so I want to have a good time while I’m doing it,” he explains. “I always tell people, if you’re a real try-hard, overly-competitive type, my night might not be for you. I run a fun game, and it’s a reason for you and your friends to get together at a bar.”

With the prevalence of fan culture today, it’s likely that the brains of most people are overflowing with a wealth of trivial knowledge on at least one topic: sports stats, Breaking Bad, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter—whatever your bag may be—bar trivia offers a small form of redemption for countless of hours spent in idle media consumption. 

The next time you’re hard up for something to do on a weeknight, spare the neighborhood bar your 10,000th karaoke rendition of Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” and give trivia a try. You might even make some new friends along the way.

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Food & Drink

Happy Pizza & Beer Week! 6 of our favorite deals

Mike Thomas

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With the first-ever Pizza & Beer Week, two of your favorite things are combined for six glorious days of gluttony. From April 22nd through the 27th, you’ll get the chance to enjoy deals from 50 of the best pizza joints and restaurants in central Ohio, plus discounted beer from Columbus Brewing Company.

To get your stomach growling, check out our roundup highlighting some of the most tantalizing offers available throughout the week. And don’t forget to enter to win FREE PIZZA for a whole year!

Mikey’s Late Night Slice | Short North & Clintonville

Columbus Street food king Mikey’s has you covered with one of the best values in Pizza & Beer Week: $10 nets you 3 slices of your choice from any of Mikey’s five classic flavors or rotating pizza-of-the-week!

Brew Dog | Short North & Canal Winchester

With names like “Grazing Goat” for a vegan pie featuring Goat Cheese, pine nuts, and arugula, or “White Trash” for a white za with Ricotta, stilton, fresh mozzarella, spinach, Brew Dog certainly earns points for creativity—and we’re sure the same applies to the taste!

Morone’s Italian Villa | 1490 Bethel Rd, Columbus

Offering a cauliflower crust pizza and creative concoctions like Hawaii vs Mexico or Loaded Potato, this Columbus strip-mall gem known for its Italian classics is really embracing the fun spirit of Pizza & Beer Week. $10 pitchers of CBC IPA aren’t a bad touch, either.

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Rusty Bucket | Multiple locations

With nine participating locations throughout central Ohio, Rusty Bucket is bringing the Pizza & Beer Week festivities to people in every corner of town. With great pizza and beer deals so close to home, there’s really no reason anyone should miss out!

Keystone Pub and Patio | Polaris and Powell

Though we have already tried Nashville Hot Chicken Pizzas from a few places in town, we still can’t wait to get our hands on Keystone’s take on the spicy, southern-fried mashup.

La Scala | 4199 W Dublin Granville Rd, Dublin

La Scala is already famous for its great pizza, and the variety found among their Pizza & Beer Week offerings is certainly first-rate. The real story, however, is the $2 bottle CBC IPA and CBC BODHI special they’re offering. $2 BODHI! Are you not excited?

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Clintonville Brunch Crawl: We dare you to squeeze all 3 stops into 1 day

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Clintonville is lovely this time of year, especially when you make three separate stops for brunch. 

Whether the weather is gracing the charming little burgh with a healthy dose of vitamin D or giving it a couple spins around the Lazy Susan that is Ohio’s climate, a trifecta of morning food destinations is sure to keep your mood afloat.

BLunch  • 2973 N High St.

blunchcolumbus.com

Yes, we know that Columbus now is home to a Drunch AND a BLunch.

Snicker all ya want—if you do, you’d be missing out on one of the culinary scene’s welcome newcomers—a half-day cafe that carries the comforts of a First Watch, but with the sophisticated execution of Tasi or Katalina’s.

The White Family has decades of hospitality under their belt—the family owned Galena’s Mudflats until recently, and dad Jeff has been running the OSU Faculty Club for the past 20 years.

Those two were training grounds for son Jeff, once a young, eager dishwasher and now head chef for the White’s new “daylight eatery and bar.” Mom Jane, despite her own admission that in the family’s tavern-running days breakfast didn’t get served until halfway through afternoon, now relishes an intimate spot where people can maintain their own balance between booze and breakfast.

A full-bar at brunch is a rarity in the peculiar little burg, and positioned near Lineage, Old Skool, and Condado, BLunch could be the perfect starting point for a casual Clintonville crawl.

Then again, you may not have another stop after Chef Jeff gets done with ya. He and the White family have concepted a bennies-and-batter focused menu, where you’ll be sure to come back after a healthy amount of indecision. Me? I’ve been dreaming about the Bananas Foster pancakes (topped with ice cream) and the huevos rancheros over masa cake for weeks. – Travis Hoewischer

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Dough Mama • 3335 N High St.

Dough-mama.com

Dough Mama is the top of my list for my favorite breakfast joint. I love so much about this place.

The atmosphere is super chill, laid back, and inviting. The food is so so good. I would call it comfort food with an extra sprinkle of love and thought.

From pie to salad, it’s all good.

They use a variety of local and seasonal ingredients and support some of my favorite local delicacies with Dan the Baker bread and Thunderkiss coffee … YUM! They also have a variety of vegan and gluten-free options.

I am smitten with the Gluten-Free Lemon Poppy muffin. This place is my go to for a yummy drippy egg, roasted potatoes, salad, a sweet treat and a perfect cup of coffee.

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My husband loves Grammie’s Sammie and a piece of Maple Bourbon Pecan Pie. I somehow manage to splurge here and feel really really good about it.

Their menu has some great staples but they also always have specials that look and are amazing.

Right now they serve both lunch and breakfast during the day and I’ve heard it through the grapevine that they will soon be open in the evening and serving dinner. I cannot wait to see what delicious dishes they create for that menu. – Jana Rock

Baba’s • 2515 Summit St.

babascolumbus.com

Baba’s is my go-to breakfast spot in Columbus. You can grab a breakfast sandwich on their homemade griddle muffins (aka little pillows of heaven), order a rack of ribs, or in the spirit of Alabama Worley, have a slice of perfect pie and a cup of Thunderkiss coffee.

Their delicious baked goods are made in house, they smoke all of their own meats and their produce and coffee are all sourced locally, though their espresso will send you to the moon.

The service is fast, their team is super-friendly and there are never any pretentious vibes in the super chill atmosphere they have created on the corner of Hudson and Summit.

They’ve made a beautiful impact in their short existence in the SoHud neighborhood, fostering local artistic connections and bringing beautiful new mural art that rotates different artist from the community throughout the year. Don’t forget to grab one of their perfect cinnamon rolls for later. — Vanessa Jean Speckman

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