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4 fresh food truck finds

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With the the heat of Summer finally upon us, many of your annoyingly proactive friends and family members will pick up productive hobbies: swimming, cycling, running, soccer. If you’re like me and the thought of physical activity in the thick, humid Ohio air sounds nothing short of abhorrent, I have good news. It’s also food truck season.

The city of Columbus boasts an ever-expanding number of fun, delicious mobile eateries for you to dig into this Summer. Here are our picks.

NOTE: Many food trucks don’t adhere to a completely set location schedule. Be sure to consult each truck’s website or Streetfoodinder.com for reliable location information and hours.

AJUMAMA

Ajumama is a longstanding player in the Columbus food truck game, opening seven years ago after founder Laura Lee returned to the Midwest from California, where she worked as a full-time chef. And while the veteran eatery does specialize in Korean street food, it does with it a unique blend of Korean and Ohio cuisine that’s both delicious and unexpected.

“[Our original menu of Korean street food] sort of evolved with me taking inspiration from growing up in the Midwest and wanting to mix things with different Korean dishes to find commonalities,” says Lee. “I grew up in Ohio; we do a lot of sandwiches, so it kind of turned into me being like hey, these two items are common, how can I make them mesh together in a way that is relatable, but flavor-wise true to what I know? There’s an honesty in that as well that’s really appealing.”

Photos: Rebecca Tien

And while Ajumama’s fare can be described as refreshing and honest, there’s another word that can be applied: delicious. Take for example the as- good-as-it-sounds Bulgogi Cheezesteak which pairs the traditional shaved beef and marinated onions on a warm hoagie roll with Shishito peppers instead of bell peppers, topped with Lee’s “Kimcheeze” sauce. Another flagship menu item is their Kimchi Bratwurst, which features a Butcher & Grocer sausage topped with homemade kimchi and spicy mayo.

As evolution seems to be at the core of Ajumama, Lee believes in regularly rotating the truck’s offerings, allowing for a wider range of items to be enjoyed. Don’t worry though, staple items such as the Bulgogi Cheezesteak and Kimchi Bratwurst remain on the menu at all times. They aren’t going anywhere.

Check: ajumama.com.

REDWOOD WAGON

While the veteran Ajumama serves up flavors of the East to hungry Columbus customers, another relative newcomer to the scene is embracing dishes from the West. Well, the West Coast that is. Like the towering trees in the truck’s name, Redwood Wagon aims to bring large flavors to the middle of the country while capturing the bold, original culinary character of the Paci c Northwest.

While Redwood Wagon’s owner Kyle Hood is a Columbus native, he has spent a considerable amount of time on the West Coast through personal travel, where he was able to establish connections and take in some of the area’s unique cuisine.

“The Pacific Northwest is kind of a microclimate; there always seems to be summery food that’s mixed with fall.”

And in replicating this confluence of styles, Hood decided to blur some flavor boundaries in his own way—a move that yielded the exceptionally delicious savory waffle. This simple but elegant twist to a classic dish is crafted as a bowl to hold other ingredients, and is scrumptiously dotted with garlic, chives, and rosemary.

The two year-old food truck is all about getting food to their customers as fast as possible, and allowing diners full customization as well. Customers begin each order with a choice of “carry” options, including the savory waffle bowl, a regular bowl, or fresh bread. Following this, a variety of different proteins, fresh seasonal vegetables, sauces, and other accoutrements are chosen to make something that is uniquely delicious. With choices from pulled pork and pulled chicken to shredded beef and a vegan vegetable base, diners can add jalapenos, corn, caramelized onion, cole slaw, bacon, mac and cheese, and more, plus cheese and a wide variety of sauces. And if you can’t figure out just what to add, a Redwood Wagon employee can assist your custom meal by suggesting great flavor pairings.

Redwood Wagon is also a proud supporter of U.S. Servicemembers, and customers can find Hood’s father-in-law John Harden, a 26-year veteran of the Air Force, on the truck regularly.

Check: redwoodwagon.com.

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MOMMA CAN COOK

You probably have a preconceived notion of what homestyle cooking is: rich, hearty, and delicious, but without a lot of real variation of nuance. And while Momma Can Cook, the Columbus food truck, self describes its tasty cuisine as “Gourmet Homestyle,” don’t let the name fool you, owner and head chef Janeen Rogers can cook, and her truck serves up much more than typical comfort food.

Since the truck’s start she’s been serving up everything from the mouth- watering Jalapeno Popper Grilled Cheese, complete with a cream cheese spread and jalapeno pieces, to her Chicken Adobo Bowl, featuring chicken in a rich adobo sauce with cheesy rice, all inside of a fried tortilla bowl and topped with Pico de Gallo, lettuce, sour cream, and a dash of cilantro.

Two of Rogers’ daughters (she has four children total, and three of them—Brittany Rogers, Glen Rogers, and Brooke Stadtlander— play integral roles in Momma Can Cook, making it a family- run business in the truest sense of the phrase) are vegan, and Janeen slowly took inspiration from them, trying more and more vegan dishes, and eventually adopting the lifestyle herself in the majority of her meals.

Now, not only can patrons purchase pre-made quantities of Rogers’ vegan mac and cheese sauce (the group is attempting to sell more products from their truck alongside food, such as handmade menu boards), but as a part of “Mama’s Rollout,” an extended menu for the truck, diners can order everything from vegan gyros to vegan mac and cheese, plus much more, creating a truly unique dynamic for homestyle cooking.

“I do this vegan Mongolian bowl and it’s so good. So much so that people who aren’t even vegan order it right and left,” says Rogers. “I was thinking about taking the bowl off and I did very temporarily, and it wasn’t a good thing because everybody wanted to have it.”

With Brittany Standtlander being an American Sign language Interpreter, Rogers would like to formally welcome the Columbus deaf community to her truck with open arms as well. “I just want the deaf community to know that they can come here and be understood,” she says.

Check: facebook.com/mommacancook7.

KINETIC

And while many Columbus food trucks o er fresh seasonal veggies and healthy options, it’s rare for a truck to be built around the concept of healthy eating entirely. Enter Kinetic.

Opened in 2014 by Andy O’Brien as the product of an OSU marketing course, Kinetic was born out of what O’Brien identified as a clear gap in service, with wellness-oriented individuals wanting healthy food truck meals that they couldn’t always find.

Like several other trucks in the city, Kinetic is embracing customization. Diners begin their experience by selecting one of six “Chef-inspired builds,” including enticing options like the savory Medi, with cherry tomatoes, feta, lemon crema, chickpeas, and hummus; or the bright and spicy Stir Fire, which mixes bell peppers, cucumber carrots, jalapeno, Thai sauce, Sriracha, and lime. By grouping each option into a different flavor profile, Kinetic allows their customers to craft their own perfect dish while still allowing for guidance from the chef.

Next, customers select a base of either hearty grains, leafy greens, or roasted sweet potatoes, and the dish is completed by choosing a protein (including grilled chicken, spicy chicken, or house veggies) and throwing in any extra items that might be wanted (such as avocado, chickpeas, or extra protein).

O’Brien believes that Kinetic gives healthy options to diners who are already locked in to a wellness regimen, but through tasty, approachable preparations, the truck can also help people who might not otherwise eat well consistently.

“We’ve always been centered around providing healthy options at a reasonable price point, while making things healthy and accessible,” he says. “By accessibility, we mean that we’re easy to find, but we also mean accessible in the way that we make eating better easier for a lot of people. We’re preparing food to keep its nutritional integrity, but also in a way that it’s appealing to people who might not always eat healthy.”

Check: kineticfoodtruck.com.

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Food & Drink

I had a Baja Blast at High St’s recently-opened Taco Bell Cantina

Asa Herron

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Once again, Taco Bell has surprised us all by adding alcohol to their drink menu. Upon hearing that the Taco Bell Cantina at 1525 N. High St. obtained its liquor license, my expectations were very ambivalent. Am I going to walk in and see a full bar with a separate area to order food, a la Plaza? Or are they going for something like Chipotle with bottles of beer and fresh margaritas available to order at the register?

Taco Bell’s drink menu turns out to be a similar, cheaper version of Chipotle’s drink menu. Instead of bottled Coronas and Patron margaritas, Taco Bell offers beers on tap and the option to add rum, vodka, or tequila to your freeze. All of the freeze flavors are available to make alcoholic––including the holy grail of Taco Bell beverages, the Baja Blast.

Photos: Amal Saeed

In keeping with Taco Bell tradition, the prices for the drinks are fairly cheap. You can get a 16-ounce Bud Light for $3, Corona for $4, and Thirsty Dog or Lost Coast for $5. However, the real treat here is the alcoholic freeze, which is only $5. The key to enjoying one of these boozy Baja Blast freezes is to keep mixing it and drink it fast. Otherwise, the alcohol you have mixed in will all go to the bottom.

The numerous televisions on the wall and high-top tables with stools to sit at create an atmosphere that could loosely pass as a casual bar. The real potential of this Taco Bell drink menu lies in its ability to transform your pre- gaming on your way to Short North bars. It’s a great quick stop before the rest of the night, or a way to bring it to a close with one last drink.

I’m not so confident that this new drink menu will go well in hours just before the south campus hotspot closes at 4am, but I can only imagine the level of intoxication that will be reached by some individuals. It’s no secret that Taco Bell is caviar to anyone under the influence. As long as the one security guard on duty can handle his own, you can bet we’ll be back for drinks at Taco Bell Cantina.

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Columbus is nuts for Krema Nut Company

Laura Dachenbach

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I remember the smell of Wonder Bread being voted one of the best aromas in Columbus in some sort of poll. Obviously, these responders had never been to the Krema Nut Company. When I enter the Krema retail space and headquarters on West Goodale in Grandview Heights, the irresistible aroma of roasted nuts and popcorn hits me like a circus and movie theater rolled into one. I know I’m not going to leave here without something in my hand.

The Krema Nut Company was founded in 1898 by Benton Black. The building was located at Second and High Streets, and primarily ground spices. However, Black also discovered the practicality and marketability of grinding peanuts into a paste, creating a protein supplement for people who were unable to chew other types of food. (Adequate dentistry was still in development.) The company moved to its present location in the mid 1920s, and while it started roasting the peanut butter, the product is still decidedly “old-school.”

“We do it all natural, so there’s no sugar, no salt, no hydrogenated oils. We use the number one fancy-grade Spanish peanut, dry roast it, take the skin off, take the heart out [the bitter part of the nut] and grind it. So
it’s real simple,” explains Brian Giunta, Krema’s Senior Vice President. 

Roasted nuts led to candies in the 1990s. Krema’s signature confections include Cashew Crunch, a handmade toffee; Buckeye Crunch, a caramel corn coated in peanut butter and chocolate; and Pecan Turtles—as well as chocolate-coated nuts, pretzels, and raisins. 

Giunta’s family bought Krema Nut in 1991, when he was a teenager. He knew he enjoyed business, but didn’t know where to channel that interest, and began discussing his plans with with his parents and others. “That was right when the internet was starting to really kind of pop.” 

Guinta recalls his father being interviewed by Business First about the company’s website, one of the first in Columbus. “There’s a picture of my dad holding a big scoop of nuts out front talking about the internet, if it was going to take off.” 

Inspired, Giunta joined the Krema team after college, and has played a role in preserving its traditions, but also carrying the company forward as his parents work towards full retirement.

“I came on in 2000, and so I started from the bottom and worked my way up. Every single job in this place, I’ve done,” Giunta says. “[Taking over the company] is awesome, but it’s a lot of weight on the shoulders.” 

As he moves around the space, it doesn’t seem there isn’t a job that Giunta can’t or won’t do, from taking calls to running equipment to helping behind the register. Today’s task is to make Hot and Spicy Peanut Butter, a natural peanut butter with a bit of cayenne pepper, a perfect addition to a cheese and cracker platter. (Giunta especially enjoys this treat with saltines.)

Giunta takes me back into Krema’s production area, occupied by old but well-built machinery, and the simplicity of the process becomes clear.

“Our grinder is very small. It’s low output. We do small batches. We make peanut butter every week. It would probably make much more sense to do a month’s worth, put it on a skid and put it in a warehouse and let it be. But that’s not us. We want it to always be fresh. Same thing with the oil roasting. We do it every week. So again, it would make more sense to just roast for a couple days and fill up all of our inventory. But that’s not us. So it’s like Groundhog Day every week.”

And there’s no fooling around. After master roaster Doug Vorhies loads the spicy peanuts (yes, just peanuts) into the grinder, he sits down to collect the thick, smooth butter in pre-labeled glass jars and hands it
off to to be immediately (yes, immediately) sealed, locking in the freshness as promised. 

“I can burn 300 pounds in a matter of seconds if I don’t pay attention to what I’m doing,” said Vorhies, who has been roasting and grinding peanuts at Krema for a decade. “When I get the peanuts in, I look at the lot number and see if that’s changed. Or you feel the weight of the bag and sometimes they’re a little bit looser because the moisture has evaporated out so the nut would tend to shrink down.”

Although visitors aren’t allowed in the production area, much of the process is still visible through the retail store windows. Krema’s retail space is split between its store, which carries its nut, popcorn, and candy products, and its cafe, which offers a dozen gourmet nut butter sandwiches. The Krema Special, an upgraded PB and J, is a top favorite. The Classic Old Timer, a sandwich of crunchy peanut butter, strawberry preserves, and sliced strawberries, is a close second. Ice cream and milkshakes are available, care of Johnson’s Old-Fashioned Ice Cream in Bexley.

“We have a nice relationship with them where they’ll use our peanut butter […] and we’ll use their ice cream for our milkshakes and sundaes,” said Giunta. “They do a great job over there.”

I give into the sensory overload and my undeniable hunger and try a Peanut Butter Apple Cheesecake sandwich, an absolute tribute to the comfort childhood with a grown-up taste. There’s hardly a way to not get sticky eating this treat, but I don’t really mind. Peanut butter always seems to hit the spot. 

As I’m leaving, Giunta notices a stray nut on the floor. It would be easy to leave it and let it be swept up later during a dedicated cleaning time. But instead, Giunta picks it up and discards it, lest it be crushed underfoot. It seems to be exemplary of his sense of pride and drive for quality and customer satisfaction that’s summed up in a simple mantra.

“I just want everything to be perfect.”

The Krema Nut Company is located at 1000 W Goodale Ave.
For product information and to order online, visit krema.com.

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Review + virtual tour of stunning new Columbus brewery

Regina Fox

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On an unusually warm September day, a few of us (614) staffers made the journey over to Olde Towne East to pay Columbus' newest brewery a visit.

Gemüt Biergarten, located at 734 Oak St., opened to the public on August 22 and offers guests a cultural drinking and dining experience in a setting just as unique.

The Firehouse, formerly known as the Columbus Music Hall, is a grand and beautiful structure, one that owners Kyle Hofmeister, Rob Camstra, Nick Guyton, and Chelsea Rennie were careful to maintain during the renovation process. The original brick walls remain throughout the brewery and beerhall, but new and stunningly beautiful stain glass windows were installed behind the bar to greet customers upon arrival and illustrate the different Gemüt brews.

Speaking of beers, I went with the Alfheim Hefeweizen which was bright and, much to my delight, not too fruit forward. The dark and toasty Woden’s Hunt Dunkel and the crisp Helheim Helles are also debut beers at Gemüt with a couple kolschs, a marzen, and a pilsner hitting taps soon.

Inspired by European cuisine, the food menu offers a variety of German sausages, Schnitzel, along with several appetizers and large plates. Sunday brunch specials are also offered—keep an eye on Gemüt's Facebook for updates.

With our beers in hand and our minds on the amazing Gemüt grub, we made our way out of the biergarten. The path to the patio took us past the pristine brewery where we got an up-close-and-personal look at the magic behind the malts.

We emerged onto a stone and brick plaza covered in picnic tables and partially covered by an upscale pergola. In the far corner, a fun-sized tables and chairs sit next to a Little Free Library—the perfect place for the tots to hang while the adults have their fun. A cute wooden gazebo populates another corner of the biergarten next to the al fresco bar.

As a resident of the Olde Towne East neighborhood, I've driven by Gemüt Biergarten in the evening many times to see the patio illuminated by dozens of Edison bulb string lights and wished I was there. And now that I finally got a chance to patronize the place, I wish I never would've left.

Take a virtual tour of Nosh in the gallery below! 
Note: use the left/right arrows in the upper-left corner to navigate between images.

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