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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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Food & Drink

Game of Cones: New ice cream contender coming to Short North

Mike Thomas

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It seems a new challenger is emerging in the race to claim the Columbus ice cream crown.

CRMD, a new ice cream spot opening soon at 1190 N. High St. in the Short North, is being teased for a “summer 2019” launch on the company’s website.

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The same site shows the brand’s flavor offerings, which will include matcha, Viet coffee, and cereal + milk. Upon opening, CRMD will also be slinging puffles – a spherical egg-based waffle cone popular in Hong Kong and Macau.

For more information and a full list of flavors, visit www.getcrmd.com.

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Biz + Dev

Update: Cajun food fans disappointed by Ned’s Bayou development

Mike Thomas

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UPDATE: While concrete information regarding the mysterious Ned’s Bayou is still unavailable, signs seem to indicate that the retail space will serve as a popup store for Twenty One Pilots merchandise when the duo comes to town for a double-header at Nationwide Arena on June 29 & 30.

Exhibit A: searching “Ned’s Bayou” on the Ohio Secretary of State’s online database shows an address on Worthington Galena Rd. for the business’ registered owner. The members of Twenty One Pilots are themselves former Worthington residents.

While this in and of itself says little, the group’s de facto mascot (seen here in the music video for the song “Chlorine”) happens to be named Ned.

Mere coincidence? I guess we’ll find out by the end of the month. For now, it seems fans of cajun food might have to look elsewhere to get their fix!

***

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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.

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

614NOW Fried Chicken Trail: Uncle Nick’s Greek Fried Chicken

Mike Thomas

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First came the 614NOW Donut Trail. Then, there was the Mac & Cheese Trail. Now, 614NOW is on the hunt for the best fried chicken this city has to offer. Welcome to the 614NOW Fried Chicken Trail!

Uncle Nick’s Greek Fried Chicken

1333 Northwest Blvd

This unpretentious Grandview-area joint is serving up the same fried chicken that made its first location in Warren Ohio a hit since its opening in 1956.

It’s no surprise that the central Ohio Nick’s location is slinging classic fried chicken worthy of its old-school pedigree. Nick’s Greek is exactly what many people long for when they think “fried chicken” – pressure-fried bird that is crispy on the outside and delectably juicy inside.

Be warned – this chicken is so good, you will be locked in that hopeless balancing act of trying to take bites without burning the inside of your mouth.

The crust on Uncle Nick’s chicken is so crispy, it seems like it would never go soft even if you left it in a closed container for an hour. This also means that the juices inside the meat have nowhere to hide, and are perfectly preserved within.

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Fried chicken places are notoriously tight with their secret recipes, but if I had to guess, I’d say that much this chicken’s seasoning comes care of a generous brining. As a result, the meat is salty and mild, allowing the natural flavors of the chicken to shine. Notably, a motto hanging on the wall of the place states, “If the Colonel had our recipe, he’d be a general.” I find no fault in this statement.

Was there just grease on the lens, or was this chicken actually glowing?

Uncle Nick’s is the kind of spot you’ll want to take a friend who has never experienced “real deal” fried chicken. While I preferred the dark meat (owner/operator Andrew Cleary was kind enough to hook me up with a half-bird’s worth of pieces) all of it was head-and-shoulders above any fast-food chains in terms of texture and flavor.

Ratings:
Aroma:🍗🍗🍗🍗 (4/5 drumsticks)
Flavor: 🍗🍗🍗🍗🍗 (5/5)
Seasoning: 🍗🍗🍗🍗 (4/5)
Crispiness: 🍗🍗🍗🍗🍗 (5/5)
Overall Experience: 🍗🍗🍗🍗🍗 (5/5)

Uncle Nick’s Fried Chicken scores a hearty 23/25 on our rating scale. Get out there and see for yourself why this spot is a favorite catering option for the Ohio State Buckeyes Football squad!

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