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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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Rye In July: The Ward 8

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We partnered with Brown-Forman, Jack Daniels Rye Whiskey, and local bartender Ben Griest from Giuseppe’s Ritrovo to bring a fun twist to your summer cocktails. Rye in July is your go-to weekly drink feature to make while stuck at home for ideas of cocktails. We are featuring The Ward 8 in today's video! This thirst-quenching, summer-ready fresh cocktail is what you need on a hot day like today!

The Ward 8

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Barrels, get your whiskey barrels here!

Julian Foglietti

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Middle West Spirits has just announced a new sale program to unload their growing surplus of whiskey barrels. Barrels will be available for pickup and sale from their warehouse, 470 E. Starr Ave., Sat., July 18,  8 a.m. to noon.

Middle West will sell 30-gallon and 53-gallon barrels for $50 and $75 respectively. You may also pick up barrel staves for $3. 

The barrels for sale were used for either bourbon, rye, or wheat whiskey, and the barrel type can be specified upon purchase. 

Whiskey barrels, and bourbon barrels, in particular, have a long history of reuse in spirit aging internationally. This is a wonderful opportunity for home distillers to snag a barrel for their own experimentation. 

And if your skills lie outside of the world of homebrewing, there are more than enough craft possibilities in one of these recycled barrels.. With projects ranging from bars, to chairs and tables, the DIY-er will have endless options for creativity. 

Barrels will be available on a first-come, first-served basis and can also be reserved by emailing the barrel size and whiskey type to [email protected]

Barrel Bar

Barrel Chair

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Westerville’s Wine Bistro has a new name—reopens Thursday with makeover

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Even though City Brands announced that the Wine Bistro in Worthington wouldn’t be returning, there were initial rumors that the Westerville location also wouldn’t be making a comeback.

Original reports were wrong, and City Brands announced the return of the Westerville Wine Bistro, 925 N. State St.,on July 9 after a light remodel. You can find the (614) report on the City Brands reopenings and closings here.

The remodeling isn’t the only thing that’s going to be new about the Wine Bistro in Westerville, though. Or as we should we say now, NAPA Kitchen + Bar. With locations  in Westerville, Dublin, and Montgomery, Ohio,  NAPA Kitchen + Bar is a sister concept to The Wine Bistro.

“We feel the NAPA Kitchen + Bar concept will really appeal to a wide range of guests in Westerville. We wanted to undertake this conversion for quite a while but never found the right time to close down for the renovations,” Tim Rollins, President of The Metropolitan Companies and owner of NAPA kitchen + bar, said in a press release on Thursday.

The restaurant will be open Monday through Thursday, 4 to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 4 to 10 p.m., and Sunday, 4 to 8 p.m.

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