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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.)

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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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Duecento: Italian Village’s best hidden gem cocktail bar

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Seventh Son Brewing has become something of a Columbus staple. Nearly any night of the week you can find its Fourth Avenue taproom bustling with patrons, enjoying food truck fare in the summer months and huddled around an outdoor fire pit in the fall and winter.

And while the brewery deserves all the acclaim it receives, don’t let that overshadow what might just be your next favorite cocktail bar: Duecento.

I say this because it’s pretty easy for that to happen. At least from a physical perspective. An abandoned building turned chic new watering hole, Duecento still maintains its humble roots from outside the building. The single-story edifice doesn’t look all that exciting or appealing from its Italian Village location, but looks can be deceiving.

Photos: Brian Kaiser

“I am a renovator and designer, and I’m a landlord also. I was working on a house that’s in this area for a while and would always pass the building [that became Duecento] on my drive home from work,” says co-owner Andrew Losinske. “So I’m looking at this abandoned building every day when I’m going home, and I thought to myself, ‘That could be a great little workshop.’ ”

After six months of slipping his contact information under the door of the derelict site to get in touch with the property owner, he took over the location. And for awhile the now-cocktail lounge was more or less a space for him to store his tools and churn out some off-site work.

By chance, Losinske’s friend and current business partner Ted Lawson happened to stop by to meet up before heading across the street to Seventh Son to grab a beer. Lawson, who now lives in Florida, is an accomplished bar and drink lounge owner, and immediately recognized that the spot’s interior was dripping with potential.

And the rest is history.

After several years of renovation (much of which Losinske handled himself), decoration, and permit applications, the cocktail lounge opened on February 2, 2019, with Losinske and Lawson at the helm as co-owners, and a small but tight and enthusiastic staff behind the pair.

From the moment newcomers enter through the building’s small, modest front door, its interior has them absolutely hooked. Don’t lie. We’ve all seen the moment in the movie Spice World when the band steps into their seemingly regular tour bus, and the shot jumps from outside the vehicle to inside, when the group is magically transported into a mansion several stories tall.

Walking into Duecento feels distinctly like this. From the outside, the humble single-story building still feels under decorated and even slightly lonely. Its exterior retains a bit of the defunct quality that plagued it for so many years.

However, once you step inside, everything changes. You enter a sleek, almost cavernous spot, sporting 3,000 square feet, with 14-foot ceilings and a pleasing mixture of vintage and contemporary decoration, favoring handsomely polished wood and low, soft, moody lighting. It’s the best “Ta-da!” entrance in Columbus I’ve ever come across.

Don’t get things twisted though, even with a less-than-bright interior and high ceilings, the centerpiece of the chic yet still-comfortable cocktail bar is its row of massive, ornate chandeliers, providing the space with an aura of classical charm without throwing its style out of balance.

And while the venue alone might be worth a visit for anyone who wants to feel like they’ve just discovered a hidden gem (which they have) or a secret, trendy speakeasy, the drinks are worth staying for. Duecento won’t overwhelm you with variety, but that’s so their focus remains on making their compact menu of streamlined cocktails (all laced nicely with a quiet Italian theme) quickly and well.

Duecento’s cocktail menu was largely created by drink consultant and Columbus cocktail veteran Christina Basham. It will soon be releasing a seasonal warm weather menu, but is still retaining most of its best-sellers.

For the new Columbus hotspot, its most popular drink is also its most unique. The 200 (a nod to Duecento’s name, which means 200 in Italian, and its location at 200 E Fourth Ave.), is made up of OYO Vodka, Nux Alpina, pomegranate, ginger, and lime. A delicious drink in itself, what sets the 200 apart is the fact that it’s poured to patrons from a draft line. And although some cocktail veterans might initially balk at this idea, both Basham and Losinske stand solidly behind them.

“Putting cocktails through draft lines can be a huge win-win,” says Basham, who noted that the trend of serving draft cocktails is catching on as a trend in Columbus and beyond. “The quality of the drink is there [at Duecento], and this ultimately cuts down on the amount of prep time for servers, plus customers aren’t waiting long at all.”

Losinske agrees. “We love serving cocktails from our draft lines,” he says. “And service here is extremely important to us; it matters that customers aren’t waiting 20 minutes for one drink.”

Also on draft is Basham’s flavorful take on the Negroni, and the bar serves several made to order options as well. These include (with some subject to change, likely this month) a black Manhattan, a gin and tonic with Pasubio, an old fashioned, and a Margarita with Aperol, providing the drink with an earthy, dynamic new twist.

What you won’t see at Duecento though, is a list of cocktails that goes out the door. And that’s on purpose. Basham, an experienced mixologist who runs her own consulting service (Bubbles + Agave) is an outspoken advocate of keeping things simple. This includes a streamlined menu and drinks that don’t contain a litany of ingredients. It leads to a reduction in prep time, she says, lends to clarity of flavors, and makes it easier on servers and patrons alike, reducing the time it takes to make any one drink.

Duecento also offers a variety of other beverages, such as craft beer, spirits, wine, and more.

As its likeness with an underground getaway or 20th-century speakeasy suggests, the atmosphere inside is effervescent and fun- loving. It features live music in its DJ booth, plus a spacious dance floor and a set of beautiful red-felted pool tables.

“It can be calm at times too, but on the weekends people here like to get loose,” says Losinske. “They like to turn the music up and dance, and we like to let them.”

Duecento is located 200 E 4th Ave. Follow Duecento on Facebook.

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New Polaris restaurant brings local focus to unique dining experience

Mike Thomas

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Sagas Restaurant Group—the group behind Atlas Tavern—is opening a new concept at 2050 Polaris Parkway in the Spring of 2020.

To help set itself apart from other dining options in the area, this yet-to-be-named concept will utilize novel pieces of restaurant equipment unique to the Columbus market: a Josper oven and Basque grill from Spain.

Imported from Spain's Basque region, the hardwood grill will be one of only 100 in North America. This machine combines the best aspects of an oven and a grill, and is 100% fueled by charcoal and hardwoods. With superior temperature control versus other charcoal grills, the Basque grill can generate temperatures from 450 degrees all the way up to 900 degrees, creating amazing seared charcoal flavor while retaining optimum moisture. 

According to a statement, this new concept will offer "approachable, upscale food at the best possible value," utilizing the best sourced ingredients. Menu items such as oak barrel teriyaki New York strip, lemon rosemary short ribs, wood grilled peach goat cheese and arugula salad, and charcoal roasted chicken with lemon confit are already being teased.

Above all, the developers hope this concept will bring a much needed local focus to Polaris.

"We believe one aspect the Polaris area is still missing out on is the local Columbus culture," a representative said via a prepared statement. "While Downtown, Easton or Bridge Park are all great destinations, the North Side population deserves to have an option for non-chain, locally sourced, and well-designed restaurants without having to drive out of the way or commit to an entire evening out."

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Breaking Bread: Crafted loaves on the rise at 5 local bakeries

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Like dough itself, one of the most compelling aspects of food is the way its meaning can be stretched and changed completely depending on the person you talk to. Or the country in which they live. Or whether or not they’ve eaten recently.

For some it’s about sustenance, and flavor, and fun. For some, even though it’s about sourdough bread, it’s about faith.

Dan the Baker | 1028 Ridge St.

While skittering around his production kitchen crafting several of nearly 1,000 country sourdough loaves he will make this week alone, Dan Riesenberger’s energy visibly changes when I ask him to talk about his sourdough bread. His face catches the light.

“It’s my meditation,” says Riesenberger, more commonly referred to as Dan the Baker. “It’s something that I believe in so viscerally, and that’s why it feels like it’s a part of me. I’m not a religious person at all, but making sourdough bread becomes a spiritual experience. It nurtures people. It nourishes people. It’s a beautiful thing.”

Photos: Rebecca Tien

What sets these loaves apart, according to Riesenberger, are his ingredients. Utilizing cultured French butter to laminate his dough, along with fresh and local ingredients makes a world of difference.

His country sourdough loaves, the baker’s biggest seller, feature a surprisingly dark—almost black in some places—crust with a prominent score running across the top. This crust creates a wonderful contrast with the light bread inside that features a very open crumb structure and classic sourdough tang.

Flowers & Bread | 3870 N High St.

While Clintonville’s young bakery Flowers & Bread may lack some of the name recognition of Dan the Baker or Omega, this isn’t due to lack of quality from the North Side establishment. In fact, the eatery was recently recognized by USA Today as one of the top ten artisanal bakeries in North America, hoisting them up along the ranks of San Francisco’s explosively popular Tartine.

And for good reason. According to baker Felix O’Connor, the sourdough at Flowers & Bread is imbued with one particular ingredient that’s indispensable to any good bread: care.

Not only is the dough left to proof in their fridge for upwards of 20 hours (when the bread is started at 3:00 a.m. daily), a step critical to the development of that particular sourdough flavor, the bakery’s starter is looked after with the attention one might give to an infant.

“We’re always taking care of our starter, we’re feeding daily, sometimes even every few hours. To do so, we mix the original starter with equal parts our and water,” says O’Connor. “It’s almost like a little pet.”

O’Connor’s bread is immediately visually distinct from others’ due to the presence of one small but pleasant addition, that of culinary art.

Using razors, the baking team at Flowers & Bread scored winding rows of ferns vertically into the bread, which featured a perfectly middle of the road, not too dark and not too light crust. Keeping with the sourdough standard, the loaf does see some larger holes, but keeps a tighter crumb structure than many loaves.

Omega Artisan Baking, North Market | 59 Spruce St.

While Riesenberger displays the youthful ambition and exuberance of a super-talented young artisan, Amy Lozier, the owner of Omega, comes off just as passionate, except her energy has settled into an equally impressive calm and confidence that only experience can afford.

Omega opened in the Columbus North Market in 2003, and since then, owner and head baker Lozier has been striking a delicate balance between staying true to her baking style (such as a wonderful rustic French loaf with a nearly blackened crust) while still making the loaves her customers love.

“When we first starting making it our sourdough looked a lot like Dan the Baker’s, with the harder crust and an open crumb structure,” says Lozier. “But our customers really wanted to use our sourdough for sandwiches, so we listened to them. It’s too hard to eat one with tuna falling through all those holes.”

After constant customer feedback, Omega listened, and began making a variant perfect for sandwiches from an English sourdough recipe, one that opts for a softer crust and a less intense sour tang (which comes from the presence of lactic and acetic acid in sourdough starters). Most important to Omega patrons though, the style creates a much finer, almost pillowy, texture in the bread, and a tighter crumb structure that doesn’t allow for noticeable holes.

Laughlin’s Bakery | 15 E 2nd Ave.

Jonas Laughlin could have been a professional singer, but now his symphonies come fresh out of the oven.

The owner of Laughlin's bakery was training to become an opera singer, when unforeseen damage to his vocal cords caused him to end this career pursuit.

Instead, he followed another passion, one we’re all thankful for: baking. “At first, baking was therapeutic for me, and then it just became something more and more serious,” he says.

Laughlin’s is actually best known for its French baguette, a customer favorite combining a crispy exterior with an open, soft white bread that flies off the shelves. “This was actually a really big deal for us,” says Laughlin, noting that it took years to perfect the recipe.

In addition to his baguette, though, the bakery also offers what is likely the most unique sourdough on our fall list. The Italian Village establishment crafts a sourdough loaf with a beautifully dark exterior, riven with lighter scoring and one single, dramatic vertical slash.

But what makes this bread stand out the most is what’s inside. Featuring a small-to-medium-sized crumb structure with modest but clearly visible holes, the bread has a distinct tan. This is because it’s a whole wheat sourdough, something most bakeries don’t take on, but Laughlin felt the grains added a fullness and complexity to the sourdough’s flavor that pushed it in a new direction.

And it really does work. The firm crust imparts a satisfying crunch, but the grains are the star of the show. They’re present, but subtle, leaving a trace of rich, earthy, nuttiness with every bite.

Lucky Cat Bakery | 3825 Columbus Rd., Granville

I’m a dog person, but last Saturday morning at the Clintonville Farmer’s Market, I would have professed my love for cats, and it wouldn’t have been a lie.

For one cat in particular. The Lucky Cat.

The feline-christened bakery has been serving Granville for nearly a decade, and its sourdough batard is one of the standouts on its menu.

From the jump, Lucky Cat’s owner and baker Andrew Semler seems to be tapped into the science of bread making. “Our batard is fully mixed by hand, where some others use mixers,” said owner Andrew Semler. “When you use a mixer, air is incorporated. Not only will oxygen bleach the bread to an extent, it also removes some flavor from the our used as well.”

He goes on to note that Lucky Cat opts for a “stiffer” starter with their sourdough, meaning the dough will have less water content. In terms of flavor, a stiff starter will yield more acetic acid in the final product (versus a more liquid starter that creates more lactic acid). Every loaf of sourdough contains both types of bacteria and acid, but the acetic offers a bit more of that punchy, vinegar-like tang, whereas lactic acid produces a sourness akin to yogurt.

In addition to the acetic twang of the Lucky Cat’s batard, Semler deliberately shoots for a middle-of-the-road crumb structure and a lighter than average crust. This offers less crunch, but according to the baker, this makes the bread easier to reheat for toast and other culinary purposes, and fans of soft and supple bread will no doubt be pleased.

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