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Powered By Plants – the city’s top vegan eats

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After building a cult following of loyal foodies through social media, Eric Ma of Tofu Louie is returning the favor by attending a soft opening of Pierogi Mountain in German Village. “The vegan scene in Columbus is awesome. It seemed like it was gonna last for two, three years but it just blew up,” he says, just one week after his Ramen Pop-Up at & Juice Co in Clintonville. “Now people have a hard time deciding where they’re gonna go some weekends, but there’s enough of a demand where we’re not competing with each other.” 

Mentioning the NoTuna wrap at Portia’s Cafe and wild breakfast sandwich at & Juice Co. as local favorites, Ma reflects on a time before the vegan industry blossomed in Columbus, when the idea of Tofu Louie originated—just after his wedding. 

“At the time, I got married down at the courthouse,” he says. “After the courthouse, we went to the Food Truck Festival and we couldn’t find anything to eat, at all, really. We did, but it was like, ‘Yeah, you can have this taco with nothing on it’.”

The disappointment of the lack of plant-based options prompted the concept of a vegan food truck, but was reconceptualized with a little help along the way. “It wasn’t like I was cooking for the idea of a business, but cooking for my wife and myself. I stumbled onto a lot of recipes, so we were spitballing a lot of ideas. We couldn’t afford a food truck, so we decided to go into the festival circuit,” he says. “Portia [Yiamouyiannis] from Portia’s Cafe, she kind of mentored me a little bit in the beginning. She kicked my butt in gear to do it, because there were a lot of fears. Like, ‘Oh, what if I fail? What if this, what if that?’ and she’s going ‘Yeah, you’re gonna fail, that’s how you learn. Nothing’s gonna fall into place perfectly for you to just walk down that road.” 

Eric Ma of Tofu Louie (photo by Brian Kaiser)

Following Tofu Louie’s first paid gig at the Columbus Asian Festival, the food stand continued to show at bustling events such as the Doo-Dah Parade and Stonewall Pride, creating an influx of social media followers before taking off in late 2018.

“When I did [my first] pop-up at Two Dollar Radio, a bunch of people showed up. When I did Sushi Night at Two Dollar Radio, a bunch of people showed up. So that was confirmation, like, things are happening now,” Ma says.

Most recently, Tofu Louie held a “Vegan Hot Chicken Makeover,” complete with “Nochicken” and waffles, Angry Baker pop-tarts, and the Portia Louie BLT, a sweet and savory creation that sent customers hankering for more.  

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While Ma is well-versed in partnering with vegan businesses in Columbus, he’s recently become invested in expanding his food palette through traveling. After his grandmother’s passing last year, he decided to visit countries in Asia. With an open mind and empty stomach, he was ready to savor anything that he could recreate once returning home. 

“Here in Columbus, some of the ethnic Asian foods are pretty watered down, they’re for the American palette. Going to [Singapore], it’s nice when I don’t have to go, ‘Hey, make it extra spicy,’ because it’s already spicy, it’s already there,” he says. “These people, they’ve perfected these recipes through generations of family-owned food stands […] and sometimes they only have three things on the menu, but it’s well-perfected and that’s what people go for.”

During his visit, Ma was lead to a wholesale grocery market where he decided to make his own version of Laska, a shrimp-based noodle bowl. Instead Ma used bean sprouts, tofu puffs, cucumber, fried shallots and chili paste. “At one point, I was smashing lemongrass with a rock, trying to grind it down. It didn’t work at all, so I just hand mixed it, which was a pain in the ass to do,” he says.

Back home, the imaginativeness of Tofu Louie is still flowing, as Ma has yet to run out of ideas for future pop-ups. While he’s enjoying the fruits of his labor, he doesn’t yet want to establish his own brick and mortar, as he’s still perfecting his craft. “It’s not like I don’t want to work hard in a restaurant. But right now, if I have the opportunity to bounce all over the place and really get these experiences, I can really contribute more to the vegan scene,” he says. “I want to contribute what I grew up with. I still have my western food, my mac and cheese, my reuben sandwiches, but I want [customers] to eat it and fill up their soul, essentially.”

Next, Ma wants to introduce vegan mavens to the mouth-numbing intensity of Szechuan peppercorn. “I try to make everything almost from scratch, because I feel like I’m a gatekeeper for what goes into your body and I feel like I’m in control over that,” he says. “I kind of want to cultivate this thing where, essentially I don’t want to be tied down. I have this creative energy going right now and I want to keep running with it.”

To keep up with Tofu Louie, follow it at @tofulouie.

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You’ll like Buckeye Donut’s newest treat a la lot

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Columbus’ favorite donut shop will be rolling out [literally] a brand new treat just in time for the annual Columbus Food Truck Festival.

We think you’ll like it a la lot.

Ice cream and donuts will converge in perfect harmony for Buckeye Donuts Apple Fritter A La Mode! That’s right, a cool scoop of vanilla ice cream will rest on top of the fan favorite sweet and fruity fried pastry, all drizzled in sticky caramel. You might need a napkin (or sleeve) for this one.

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This special goodie will be available Friday and Saturday from 11:00 AM- 11:00 PM only at the Columbus Food Truck Festival on the Scioto Mile.

Click here for our advise about how to optimize your experience at the foodie fest.

BEHOLD! The newest member of the Buckeye Donuts Family: Apple Fritter A La Mode! 🍩🍦Get your hands on this bad boy…

Posted by Buckeye Donuts on Thursday, August 15, 2019
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Rossi or Ratssi? Rodents force closure at Short North restaurant

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Someone is getting assigned to some “Charlie Work” after The Rossi Bar and Kitchen was served a red sticker by the Columbus Public Health Department.

The Short North restaurants was issued an emergency order yesterday because of “rodent activity in the basement prep area.” Reportedly, inspectors discovered dead rats in traps and excessive rat feces in the bowels of the 895 N. High St. building.

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Rossi will remain closed until the facility is cleaned, holes in the basement are repaired, and the rats are under control, according to a post from Tom Sussi, a local licensed and insured Private Investigator.

Sussi added that sources informed him that employees are not being paid on time.

Rats!The rodents forced a popular Short North restaurant to shut its doors.The Columbus Public Health Department…

Posted by Tom Sussi on Thursday, August 15, 2019

In an Instagram post, Rossi announced it’d be closed “for the next few days due to emergency repair.”

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Fried, Smothered, & Loaded: Vegetarian Junk Food

Mitch Hooper

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Whenever the words “vegetarian” or “vegan” are thrown around, people’s defense walls go up as they instantly imagine bland salads or unseasoned tofu. Since both diets have become wildly popular trends in the world of eating, they are often associated with exclusive, healthy, clean, natural, raw, whatever…eating.

As a vegetarian, I’m here to tell you that’s bullshit. Sure, we vegetarians eat our share of salads, and occasionally tofu is substituted for chicken on our health-conscious dishes, but that’s not the full picture of our plates. Whether it’s loading up on carb-heavy sides, covering things in cheese (or vegan “cheese”), or living off the appetizer menu; living a plant-based diet can be just as much fun and games as any other fare – and here are a few dishes from around Columbus to prove it.

AM Philly

Angry Baker Olde Towne East | 891 Oak St.

Angry Baker has found a way to cover things in cheese and still please the vegans. The AM Philly comes loaded with sauteed mushrooms, onions, and peppers with tofu scramble atop a fresh and soft hoagie bun. To keep it in true “cheese/steak” form, they top the entire masterpiece with vegan cheddar cheese and a little vegan mayo. The sandwich is every bit as flavorful as a regular Philly, plus it’s just as messy to eat. I recommend a few squirts of Sriracha on it, but then again, I recommend that on everything

Buffalo Mac

Woodhouse Vegan Pop-up | 1038 N High St.

Keeping it cheesy, but plant-based, comes from the vegan pop-up at Oddfellows with the Buffalo Mac. The entree is relatively simple, but that just means more chances to really focus on flavor. The Beyond Meat “chicken” strips are marinated in buffalo sauce to really pack a punch and then is topped with more buffalo sauce and dairy-free ranch dressing with a bed of dairy-free mac and “cheese” to dig into. It’s finished off with some raw red onion and scallions to fully recreate that buffalo-style experience. Keep an eye out for Woodhouse’s first brick-and-mortar location setting up shop in the Italian Village.

Fried Cauliflower 

Hadley’s Bar + Kitchen | 260 S Fourth St.

Cauliflower is the new favorite vegetable amongst dieters for being low-carb. It’s inviting to a variety of flavors, and it can be used in many creative ways. At Hadley’s, the fried cauliflower resembles the bar-style boneless wings you might be craving since ditching meat. It’s the little things you miss as a plant-eater (like dipping sauces). So finding a place that offers three different sauce options—Dr. Pepper barbeque, house hot, and General Tso’s—is quite a gratifying moment. Dunk these addicting suckers into Hadley’s house-made ranch or bleu cheese and you’ll be fighting your carnivorous friends off as they ask to try a bite.

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Parma, Italy

Melt | 4206 Worth Ave. & 840 N High St.

Usually Melt’s sheer amount of dairy usage is enough to scare off any vegan within a 10-mile radius, but that all changed once Melt added an entire menu dedicated to vegan options. There are tons of options to choose from, but the Parma, Italy might take the caloric crown when it comes to plant-based indulgence. The sandwich features vegan chicken (or fried tofu) smothered in basil marinara with roasted garlic and vegan mozzarella cheese all in between two crusty pieces of garlic toast. It might not hurt to park a little further away from Melt just to burn a few extra calories on the way to and from devouring way too much food. 

The Joe Vegan Sloppy Sandwich

Lineage Brewing | 2971 N High St.

“Have some more sloppy joes! I made ‘em extra sloppy for you!” If that scene from Billy Madison still haunts you any time you go to break out some Manwich from the cupboard, put that canned sauce down and go to Lineage. Immediately order a beer to wash away the memory of the lunch lady, and then snag the Joe Vegan sloppy sandwich off the menu. It’s a hearty combination of lentils and kidney beans in the iconic sloppy joe sauce, and it’s topped with raw onion and your choice of vegan cheese sauce or cheddar cheese. Throw in a side of potato chips and it’s like being a teenager all over again except this time you didn’t have to steal your dad’s beer.

Vegan Barbeque Jackfruit

Alchemy | 625 Parsons Ave. 

& 1439 Grandview Ave. 

Jackfruit is a delicate fruit that tastes almost nothing like fruit. It’s a great vessel for sauces and flavorings, but if it’s not cooked properly, it can turn into a mushy mess. Thankfully, Alchemy has perfected this process with their vegan take on a classic barbeque pulled pork sandwich. The jackfruit is tender, but stays in form on the roll. For added texture and taste, the sandwich is served on a crunchy ciabatta roll with carrot cabbage slaw in an herbed cashew cream.

Brussel Sprouts

Barrel On High | 1120 N High St.

Don’t turn your nose up on Brussel sprouts, these green brain-looking vegetables are great for absorbing flavor and they have that “meaty” taste. At Barrel on High, these Brussels are oven-roasted and tossed into a Thai chili sauce making them potentially your new favorite thing. While the Thai chili brussel sprouts are worth tripling up on and calling it a dinner, might I point you in the direction of the Impossible Burger as well. The Impossible Burger has grown to fame because it resembles every aspect of meat while remaining plant-based, and Barrel’s straight-up approach of making an American classic go vegan will have you double checking the menu to make sure it’s not actually beef.

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