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The Little Corner That Could

"So, it’s a bakery that sells sushi?” “It’s not a bakery—it has everything.” I overheard this conversation between an obviously first-time customer, and their more experienced friend as I sat at a table at Corner Stone Deli and Cafe in Clintonville while working on this article. I couldn’t help but smile at what I overheard, [...]
Jeni Ruisch

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“So, it’s a bakery that sells sushi?”

“It’s not a bakery—it has everything.”

I overheard this conversation between an obviously first-time customer, and their more experienced friend as I sat at a table at Corner Stone Deli and Cafe in Clintonville while working on this article. I couldn’t help but smile at what I overheard, as it’s a pretty concise summation of the thought process everyone goes through the first time they come in. I long ago stopped marveling at the mashup of food genres on the menu, as I was too busy basking in the glory of the unpretentious dining room for roughly a decade.

Throughout college and beyond, the quiet streets between High Street and Clinton-Como Park were my daily backdrop. It was the first place I had lived since I was a kid where I knew my neighbors. Though the main drag of High street has always been bustling, the last decade has seen a lot of change in this part of town. I watched as abandoned storefronts turned into trendy shops, and the housing prices in the area went through the roof. Through all of the changes, one character was a constant: Corner Stone. I would spend hours upon hours there doing school work. Sometimes only a cup of coffee paying the “rent” for my table, sometimes staying through the day, and eating breakfast, lunch and dinner there. I lived a turbulent third of my life in that North Side neighborhood. And through each loss and gain, I had sushi, bagels, and giant salads to return me to my baseline.

Song Tjiang and wife Mediana Lien run the store every day without fail. The place has remained mostly unchanged in the 11 years since he bought it. It used to be Mill Street Bagels, and when Song (as everyone calls him) bought the business in 2007, he kept that menu. That explains the bagel sandwiches and salads … but business wasn’t exactly booming, so Song knew he needed to dig a little deeper. With a background managing the sushi department at a Whole Foods, and a rise in popularity for the raw fish dish, Song added a sushi counter to his deli. And that was when the lines of patrons really started growing. Within a year, he added rice bowls and (I would argue) some of the best pad thai in the city to his menu. Add a cooler full of ice cream treats, bubble tea, and delicious cookies, and you have the eclectic menu of Corner Stone that has proven to be a winning combination.

I can picture characters from many chapters of my life within the walls of this place. Friends I’ve lost all but facebook contact with, exes I thought I would spend the rest of my life with, and visiting family and friends who wanted to go to “my favorite place.” The quiet backroom was an incubator for the birth of my writing career. My first paid writing gig was an advice column about house plants. Was I good with plants? Black thumbs hidden behind my back I smiled, “Of course!” Thanks to Google and the bottomless coffee cups at Corner Stone, I was able to quit waiting tables to write full time.

Song and his wife, like any long-time Columbus residents, have watched as the city around them has exploded.

“We used to be the only family restaurant here in Clintonville, [along] with Whole World and Nancy’s. Now we have 20, maybe?”

With Whole World gone the way of the dodo, and new lunch and dinner spots opening up all the time, Corner Stone has remained a .. er… reliable pillar in a rapidly changing place.

In the late winter of 2012, after my mom died and the relationship I was in ended simultaneously, I lost all sense of bearing. That was the year the world was supposed to end, and in a way, mine did. When I needed a hot meal and some respite from packing up her things, I would trudge through the snow, up the street to Corner Stone. The familiar decor and menu would be there unchanged, calmly waiting for me. It was an institution of the neighborhood, and possibly the only time I felt at home during months spent in flux. But Song, his wife, and their employees always seemed cheerful, and grateful for my business, not knowing how vital their presence was to me.

“People want to support Mom and Pop restaurants around here. Neighbors support us a lot.”

And neighbors they are. Song hires locals, and takes pride in giving young people restaurant experience. He knows many of his customers by name, and after buying the building in 2016, he’s here to stay for the long haul. Just like his diners. I remember the hours upon hours I sat at tables, clicking away on my ancient white Macbook writing papers, and years later, grading them. I took comfort in knowing I was in a place where I could really relax and focus on my work, where coffee and a good meal was within reach. I asked Song if it ever bothers him when people camp out at his tables, and he shakes his head, laughing. He can’t even seem to imagine it as a problem.

I sat for hours and watched the sun set through their giant front windows for years, doing homework, job hunting, sometimes just wasting time. As I sat to write this article, I clocked in over six hours in their chairs, and ate my way through examples from each part of their menu as I looked back on the entirety of my 20s. The writing career that started within these walls has come full circle. Now I’m a full-time editor, and I’ve been given a chance to revisit a part of my past. I don’t make it up to this part of town much any more. But I think it might behoove me to make the trip when I have a few hours worth of work to do, and I want to take a stroll down memory lane.

Song makes his rounds, greeting people and collecting their dishes as some click away at their keyboards, and some catch up with friends the old fashioned way, face to face.

“We never rush people,” he says with a smile. 

The Corner Stone is located at 3296 N High St. For more, visit cornerstonedelicafe.com.

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Food & Drink

Kick off summer with FREE Krispy Kreme this Saturday

Mike Thomas

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It’s officially summer in C-Bus, which, due to climate change, apparently doubles as monsoon season (thanks a lot, Al Gore).

If you’re still there after reading the words “climate change,” we have some good news. Krispy Kreme, purveyors of those sugary-sweet rings we all know and love, want to help you celebrate “summer” (and the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 space mission) with a free doughnut this Saturday, June 22.

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Free doughnuts might just be the perfect way to salvage a weekend wrecked by rain. As always, please remember to pace yourself!

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Biz + Dev

Signage suggests new eatery coming to former Short North Blick space

Mike Thomas

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A brand new awning sporting the words “Ned’s Bayou” has appeared over the former Blick’s Art Supplies location at 612 N High St in the Short North.

While initial searches have turned up little information about this forthcoming business, we can only assume that this will one day be the sight of a Louisiana-inspired restaurant of some sort.

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Then again, the word “Bayou” carries other connotations. Maybe this will be the Short North’s first-ever spot for gator rasslin’. Only time will tell!

614NOW will keep an eye peeled for more info on this business as it becomes available.

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Food & Drink

Hop On: (614) rolls around in new brewery party bus

Regina Fox

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So many breweries, so little time, so few volunteers to drive your tipsy tush around, right? Wrong! Columbus, I’d like you to meet CBus Brew Bus: a brewery party bus tour that offers a new and refreshingly different way for curious hop heads to experience the local craft beer scene.

It was a despairingly shitty day in Central Ohio when our very strange-looking Uber pulled up to the (614) Media Group office. We all raced to the front to catch a glimpse, giggling at the thought of our impending adventure. 

Our tour was private, meaning we had the whole bus to ourselves and were able to customize the pickup and dropoff locations, as well as the destinations. Public tours, on the other hand, are made up of several small groups that meet in the heart of downtown at City Tavern and visit predetermined breweries. (I know what you’re thinking and yes, the AUX cord is up for grabs on both private and public tours.)  

Photos: Rebecca Tien

Owner Andy Bachman and his wife/tour guide extraordinaire/HBIC Jess greeted us at the door as we took our seats. The inside was decked out with paintings of Godzilla wearing a shirt reading “I Heart Local Beer” and Godzilla wearing a Block “O” tee—both raising foaming pints of beer, naturally. Unlike a real school bus where Kenny from 5C won’t stop kicking the back of your seat, CBus Brew Bus chairs face inward to keep conversations flowing right along with the brews. Between each seat is a cup holder that contained a 6.75-ounce sample glass that we would use to sample three unique beers at each of our three destinations.

Between curiosities of our careers and a mutual interest in beer, we hit it off with both Jess and Andy immediately—a perk of the service before we even shifted into drive. 

“It’s a great way to meet other people who may already enjoy craft beer,” Andy said of the tour. “You might even be somebody new to town or visiting from out of town and it’s a great way to acclimate yourself to the Columbus culture.”

First stop: Zaftig Brewing

We hustled in to avoid the rain and were met by an expecting Frank Shoults, Zaftig Taproom Manager. One of the most special qualities of CBus Brew Bus is the personalized experience you receive at every checkpoint. There were other bar guests upon our arrival, but Shoults gave us his undivided attention as he explained the beers, and waited patiently as we decided on our individual flights of three. 

I’m an IPA girl through and through, but I wanted to use this excursion to expand my hop horizons. I went with the Big Barleywine (14% ABV), Nuts For You Peanut Butter Stout (8% ABV) and Juicy Lucy IPA (7% ABV) because, well, old habits die hard.

While Andy understands that beer isn’t everyone’s thing, he’s confident the CBus Brew Bus can provide an experience even the most inexperienced beer drinker can appreciate. 

“Through this tour, you get to sample nine different types of beer and there’s usually something within that range that people will grab onto,” he assured. “There’s something for everybody. Don’t fear the beer!” 

We sipped and gossiped until Shoults came over and invited us on a tour of the Zaftig brewing facility. We learned about cultures, yeast, the canning process, and the importance of having a CFO (chief feline officer—follow Hops on Instagram at @zaftighops).

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Second stop: Parsons North 

Jess popped the top of our crowler of Sweet Lucy and officially christened our trip with its first road beers before we were even clear of the Zaftig parking lot. You can throw a rock from pretty much anywhere in Columbus and hit a drinking establishment, but there’s just something about sipping on an ice-cold IPA with your buddies while doing 65 down I-71 South. Beer tastes better while you’re doing a mile a minute. Amirite?

It was becoming crystal clear that the three seemingly small samples at each brewery + to-go beers between stops were going to add up quickly.

Like at Zaftig, our bartender was also ready and waiting for us with an ice-cold pitcher when we tipsily traipsed into Parsons North. Mulberry Saison (7% ABV), American Stout (5% ABV), and Grapefruit Wheat (6% ABV) were the three beers we were treated to—none of which I would have ordered on my own accord, but were all brews I’d drink again. 

Andy, now retired from Columbus City Schools, was first introduced to craft beer during his residency in Boulder, CO and, more specifically, his experience with Boulder Beer Company about 20 years ago. Experimenting with different craft beers has been a muse of mine for about five years now. Andy, however, is a pioneer of sorts.  

“From that point on, I was pretty anti-domestic,” Andy said laughingly. But, he returned to Ohio in the mid-90s only to discover how far, far behind we were in the craft beer scene. Andy became a teacher but clung to his passion for beer. Without the capital for a taproom or enough knowledge of the process to become a brewer himself, Andy landed on the idea for the CBus Brew Bus.

Third and final stop: Platform Beer Co. 

The trip from stop 2 to stop 3 is what Andy calls the “sweet spot.” What he means is that the riders are experiencing peak fun. I couldn’t agree more. Our small, but lively, group of (614) staffers and Jess—who was going beer sample for beer sample with us—drank the rest of our Sweet Lucy crowler under-the-light of the green LEDs that lined the ceiling of the bus, and talked and laughed at unnecessarily high volumes until we rolled to a stop at our final destination. 

At Platform, I tried the Seltzer Project: Tangerine-Grapefruit Hard Seltzer (5% ABV) and I loved it. Will it replace my Black Cherry White Claws this summer? Stay tuned. I also had the Mello Hello IPA – Brut (5.4% ABV) and loved it, also. 

By this point, at our third brewery, it was crystal clear that the three seemingly small samples at each brewery plus to-go beer between stops had really added up—tipsy would’ve been an understated adjective for our crew. But, we got way more than a Friday morning hangover out of the deal. Jess was our new favorite drinking buddy, we fell in love with several new brews we may have never taken a chance on otherwise, we learned the ins and outs of Zaftig’s brewing process, and we bonded with each other in a way that few coworkers get to experience. 

What will your Brew Bus adventure hold?

For more information and to schedule your next trip, visit cbusbrewbus.com.

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