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8 food, drink trails to consume & conquer this winter

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Cold weather brings a built-in excuse to stay snuggled up inside and hibernate this winter. But we want to give you every reason to go out and brave the frigid temperatures. We’ve compiled a partial list of the fine indoor adventures available to the local foodie or beer snob who wants a conquest to brighten up their winter darkness.

Here are eight of my favorite edible and drinkable tours just begging for you to embark upon this winter:

Columbus Coffee Trail: If your mittens aren’t doing the job, warm up your paws this winter with the Columbus Coffee Trail. With 23 stops around the city, this trail is guaranteed to get your heart rate and productivity a-buzzing. And not only will you be hella caffeinated when you’re through, but after just four stamps on your trail card, you’ll be the proud new owner of a Columbus Coffee t-shirt.

Dublin Celtic Cocktail Trail: Round up your best mates and hit the Celtic Cocktail Trail in Dublin. There are 11 stops (which you are strongly advised not to make all in one day) featuring such green drinks as 101 Beer Kitchen’s “Muck of the Irish,” Pins Mechanical Company’s “Leatherlip’s Revenge,” and Vaso’s “Liffey’s Cooler.” It’s like St. Patrick’s Day whenever you please! And yes, there’s a t-shirt prize involved. Slánte, lads.

Ohio Buckeye Candy Trail: Football’s not really your thing but you still want to participate in game day festivities? Skip the stadium and hit the Ohio Buckeye Candy Trail! This sweet, 31-stop adventure takes you all around the great state of Ohio to the best bake shops growing chocolate and peanut butter nuts, including seven right here in Columbus. Gotta eat on the run? Hit up the Chocolate Cafe at 1855 Northwest Boulevard for an on-the-go dozen in an incredible, edible box!

Columbus Meat Lover’s Tour: Where’s the beef, you ask? Why, on the Columbus Meat Lover’s Tour, of course! On this four-stop journey, carnivores will encounter and devour farm-fresh cuts and innovative preparations, a pair of ethnic cuisines displaying novel uses for a wide range of proteins, and a smokehouse with a long history of preparing European-style smoked and cured meats at Skillet, Thurn’s, Apna Bazaar, and The Refectory. (Vegans and vegetarians need not apply for this one.)

Columbus Ale Trail: With 40 breweries and counting, Columbus boasts one of the booziest craft beer scenes in the Midwest (next, the world!). We don’t want you wasting precious porter time behind bars, so queue up the Uber, lushes, we’re going Columbus Ale Trailing! From sours to sasions, rooftops to restaurants, you and 2,370-ish of your closests friends will crawling your way through the tipsy trail and gathering prizes along the way.

Ohio Ice Cream Trail: You’ll scream for the two local scoop shops on the Ohio Ice Cream Trail. Our very own Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at 714 N High St, Columbus and Johnson’s Real Ice Cream at 2728 E Main St, Bexley landed themselves a spot on the highly-coveted 20-stop list. Unfortunately, there’s no prize for completing this trail, but a t-shirt is moot compared to the joy a few scoops of ice cream can bring you.

Ultimate Pizza Road Trip Across America: On an ambitious mission to find the best pizza in the United States, a national blog known for its “best of” lists uncovered two saucy gems right here in Columbus. Rave Reviews took their readers around the country to find the 50 best pizzas and it just so happens that two are located right here in the (614). Rubino’s Pizza and Mikey’s Late Night Slice are both slivers in the pie that is the Ultimate Pizza Road Trip Across America.

Alt Eat Ethnic Food Tour: Give your meat and potatoes diet a break with the Columbus Food Adventures Alt Eat Ethnic Food Tour where you’ll learn about the cuisines and cultures of some of Columbus’s finest immigrant kitchens. Experience Somali cuisine, eat Vietnamese sandwiches, sample Nigerian food, visit a Mexican bakery, learn about Salvadoran delicacies, and more on this unique adventure.

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Classy Trashy: Fast-food classics inspire upscale creations

Mike Thomas

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For better or worse, fast food is something of a Midwestern tradition (and who are we kidding—it’s probably for the worse). While often viewed as a guilty pleasure in today’s increasingly health- and fitness-minded society, fast food chains still dominate much of our landscape—not to mention our diets.

In many households, it’s the simple and easy option for busy working parents. For others, it’s the best you can do for the price. Unpretentious, easily-accessible, ready when you are—fast food remains a familiar touchstone for millions. 

When he opened Service Bar, Chef Avishar Barua wanted to bring that same approachability to the food on his menu. “We were trying to make dishes that I had a lot of experience with, but it’s hard to translate some of that experience into a dining room,” Barua remembers. “I grew up in the Midwest, and I know how hard it is to get my family to eat stuff.” 

This is where tinkering at Taco Bell some years before came in.

“When I found out about the Cheesy Gordita Crunch I thought that was the coolest thing in the world,” Barua explains. “That’s everything—every contrast you want, every flavor. I thought it would be really cool if you put it in a Doritos Locos shell.”

Photos: Brian Kaiser

The Dorito-infused gordita he conceived of that day became Baura’s go-to order when visiting the ostensibly-Mexican-themed fast-food chain. Later, it served as the inspiration for one of Service Bar’s most iconic menu items—the Cheesy Brisket Crunch.

“At face value, it seems like an upgraded version of the Taco Bell taco,” says Barua of Service Bar’s take on the fast-food standard.

Featuring house-smoked brisket, Barua’s creation mimics its fast-food counterpart with a South American-inspired sauce of serano and nora chiles, smoked cheddar from Middlefield Original Cheese co-op, and shredded iceberg lettuce—all in a hard shell made with Columbus’ own Koki’s Tortillas. To reproduce the Gordita’s signature outer shell, Barua looked to the traditional Bengali frybread of his youth—a staple in his mother’s cooking. 

“We’re trying to recreate that memory of biting into that super-crunchy taco, with all these things encapsulated from all these experiences into one very identifiable dish.”

Barua’s approach to cooking centers on creating points of entry through familiar presentations. In his kitchen, there is no clear distinction between high-end cuisine and lowbrow junk food. There is only good, and not good.

“People will always bring up ‘modern cooking’ or ‘fusion cooking’ —it’s just cooking, man,” says Barua. “You can just say, ‘I think this is food that I’d like to eat, and I want to make it and try to translate it.’ ” 

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This view is shared by A&R Creative Group head chef Tyler Minnis, who incorporates upscale twists on fast-food favorites on the menu at The Market Italian Village.

Chef Minnis has found that fast-food presentations can serve as useful points of access for patrons when it comes to some of the market’s more formidable offerings. 

“I think it’s an easier way to introduce certain ingredients to people that they might not normally be adventurous enough to try,” Minnis explains. “You might see something and say, ‘Oh, I know what that is, and I like it, so why not try the rest of it?’ ”

It was this approach that led to the creation of one of the standout items on the Market’s brunch menu. With a thick-cut slice of mortadella in place of the Canadian bacon and the funky goodness of taleggio replacing the usual slice of processed American, The Market McMuffin improves dramatically on its counterpart from the golden arches. 

In addition to making upscale ingredients accessible to the masses, Chef Minnis finds that fast-food twists help to keep the tone of the menu light. 

“Myself and my staff take this stuff very seriously, but at the same time, we try to have fun with it,” Minnis explains. “If not, there’s not really any reason to be cooking. You might as well do something else.”

For these chefs, dishes such as these constitute more than just a cheeky highbrow take on supposedly lowbrow food options. They are a valuable resource in encouraging diners to test the limits of their palates through forms they are already comfortable with. What’s more, these dishes represent an expression of one of the Midwest’s most authentic food traditions. 

“We were once classified by Anthony Bourdain, R-I-P, as a place that was a bunch of strip malls separated by Applebees,” chef Barua says. “That’s what he said about Columbus, Ohio. And you know what, maybe we are, but it’s cool. We can all identify with things here. We can all have memories, and we’re not pretentious assholes.” 

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New supper club opens in the Short North

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Short North now has galleries, bars, restaurants, apartments, businesses, and a supper club, literally. Ampersand Asian Supper Club is officially open in the Brunner Building at 936 N. High St.

The fast-casual restaurant offers Japanese dishes like Donburi rice bowls, nori fries, miso soup, pork chashu, and teriyaki chicken. Ampersand hangs its aprons on Ramen, though. At $18 a bowl, the ramen options range from Smokey Shoyu, to Miso, to Fungus Among Us.

See the full menu below:

The bar program offers Japanese spirits, whiskey, and vodka among others.

Ampersand is owned by Megan Ada, who is also behind Asterisk Supper Club and Sunny Street Café in Westerville.

Ampersand is open 11:00 AM – 10:00 PM Monday through Thursday, 11:00 AM – 11:00 PM Saturday and Sunday, and 11:00 AM – 9:00 PM Sunday. For more information, visit their Facebook page.

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Quiz: Which Columbus brewery are you?

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