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Some Like it Hot: Columbus Fiery Foods Festival makes its debut this weekend

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Sitting on a table at the Columbus Commons, Mike Gallicchio’s phone rings constantly for 15 minutes. It buzzes. He ignores it (as he’s in the middle of our interview). This repeats.

That’s because Gallicchio is in the throes of organizing a calendar full of festivals around Columbus. He’s on overdrive, working 15 hours a day, but his enthusiasm seems boundless, and he’s particularly hyped about a new festival he’s helping launch in August: the Fiery Foods Festival.

With 35 vendors bringing their hottest foods, sauces, and salsas, the Fiery Foods Festival is poised to challenge even the toughest Midwestern taste buds. And for those who truly want to earn their stripes, they can compete in the hot pepper-, hot pizza-, hot wings-eating contests and/or amateur hot sauce-making contests.

Although Gallicchio is co-founding the festival with CD 102.5’s Randy Malloy, he says he won’t be partaking in those events. While everyone else is heating up, he wants to take a moment out of his packed schedule to cool down.

“I want to sit back and enjoy it. It’ll be fun,” Gallicchio said. “I’m excited. I think it’s going to be cool. It’s going to be great for the city.”

For the co-founder, the Fiery Foods Festival isn’t just a business venture; he loves spicy foods, which he likes to cook when he’s at home. Curries, in particular, are a specialty. “The hotter the better,” Gallicchio said. “My kids aren’t really fond of that, but my wife is and I am.”

This isn’t Gallicchio’s first time bringing such an event to Columbus. At 53, he’s been a business owner and entrepreneur in Columbus for more than 20 years. Nine years ago, he co-founded the Columbus Food Truck Festival “just out of pure fun at the time,” and along with that he now organizes the Columbus Summer Wine Festival and the Ohioana Book Festival, among others.

To put into perspective how much Gallicchio is doing right now, he says festival management isn’t even his main gig. It’s more of a supersized side hustle—what he does for fun, and for profit, to accompany his five- year-old business building customized food trucks.

“The food truck scene is thriving,” Gallicchio said. “It’s doing really, really well.”

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To be fair, he doesn’t do the manual labor of installing commercial kitchens inside trucks. He’s more of the connecter, hooking up aspiring food truck owners with the vehicles they need. He says he just finished a grilled cheese truck, and his company is now working on a pasta one.

Gallicchio first became interested in food trucks and festivals after working in the restaurant industry. He owned a couple bars along Park Street, and after helping out with Park Street Festival, he decided to launch one for food trucks. A Columbus native and graduate of The Ohio State University, Gallicchio says he’s seen how vibrant the Downtown and Short North areas have become over the past few decades. He believes that the changes have created a market for events like the Fiery Foods Festival to be a success.

“Columbus is a growing, thriving city. I’ve been here my whole life, so I’ve seen it get bigger and better, so I’m excited to create these things,” Gallicchio said. “I’m used to putting these things together, so I just got to get past the first couple years. They either work or they don’t; it’s just a business to me in a sense.”

Across the U.S., spicy food festivals are also held in New York, Chicago and Albuquerque. Jungle Jim’s International Market near Cincinnati has a “Weekend of Fire.” But Gallicchio says he’s surprised there aren’t more.

Here in Columbus, the North Market used to host a similar spicy foods celebration until about five years ago. For Gallicchio’s version, he’s working with Flavor and Fire, a North Market vendor that used to be known as CaJohn’s Fiery Foods. At the event will also be Crimson Cup, with a spicy co ee, along with a variety of spicy food vendors.

The Fiery Food Festival will benefit the children’s charity CD102.5 for the Kids. A $30 ticket includes two beers or nonalcoholic beverages, an engraved fork, six spicy food samples and samples of all the hot sauces and salsas.

“It’s fun for me,” Gallicchio said. “I like to create things, I like new things, I like to put something together and see it really happen. That’s part of the thrill for me.”

This year’s Fiery Food Festival will be on Saturday, August 10 from 2 to 10 p.m. at the Columbus Commons. Tickets are available at eventbrite.com.

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Food & Drink

Four Loko finally joins the pack of local hard seltzer offerings

Mike Thomas

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You go to sleep one night, and seltzer is just the fizzy stuff in big glass bottles that clowns used to hose fools down with in old cartoons. You wake up, and it’s the hottest beverage trend since India Paled its famous Ale (or whatever).

While the drink predates this calendar year, there can be no doubt that the summer of 2019 belonged to hard seltzer. Whether you were getting “Truly” hammered, or disregarding all laws with White Claws, surely these fizzy intoxicants were a fixture at many a summer function you attended.

A hit with the fit crowd for their low calorie count and negligible carbs, the alcoholic seltzer sensation has washed over the nation like a carbonated, mango-flavored tsunami. Popular though they may be, these beverages are not without detractors. One article in the San Francisco Chronicle called spiked seltzers “the summer’s biggest scam,” pointing to the fact that in spite of marketing to the contrary, the drinks are not in fact seltzers, but carbonated malt beverages (like Smirnoff Ice and Zima).

With enormous international companies such as Anheuser Busch getting in the hard seltzer game, it was only a matter of time until the forward-thinking minds in our city’s booming beverage scene put their own stamp on this latest and greatest toastable trend.

While not native to Columbus per se, Cleveland’s Platform Beer Co. has won a spot in the hearts of local craft brew fans thanks to its hoppin’ downtown taproom and the consistent quality of their products. Platform is also one of the prominent regional brands to embrace the spiked seltzer phenomenon wholeheartedly.

Available in six-packs, Platform’s rotating series of hard seltzers features some flavors that will be familiar to regular drinkers of the national brands, such as black cherry. Where the brand finds a leg up on the competition is a slate of unique offerings like Passionfruit, Ginger-Lime, and Blood Orange Yuzu.

Platform’s seltzers clock in at the industry standard 5% ABV, and retain the same near-clear, bubbly appearance as most competitors. While a respected craft brewery dipping a toe in this segment might get the mustaches of snobbish craft beer purists twirling, Platform has never been known for playing it safe—and they’re not the only ones.

Seventh Son Brewing sports ample draft handles in their multi-tiered taproom, giving pilot batches of “out there” brews a place to shine among the pleasing regular lineup. With so much room for experimentation, it’s no wonder that Seventh Son has cracked the hard seltzer puzzle.

A departure from the norm in several ways, Seventh Son’s “Kitty Paw” is a raspberry-flavored seltzer crafted with 100% real fruit juice and zero artificial colors or flavors added. The striking pinkish hue of this feline- inspired booze water also helps Seventh Son’s creation stand out from the pack. Opaque and bursting with tart berry flavors, Kitty Paw should be a hit with fans of fruit-flavored lambic beers. Available on-tap only, this initial offering is just the first of a planned series of hard seltzers being cooked up by the Seventh Son team.

No hard look at hard seltzer would be complete without mention of Four Loko, the “blackout in a can” hooch concocted by a group of OSU grads that mixed copious amounts of caffeine (since removed from the recipe) with alcohol, fueling all of your worst college-era mistakes.

If the notion of alcoholic water at first seemed too absurd to believe, leave it to Four Loko to take that absurdity to the most extreme possible end. In a Twitter post dated to August 11, 2019, the company teased their own accursed foray into the hard water game with a beverage that would pair “a hint of blue razz” with a daunting 14% ABV. At the time of this writing, no such drink has appeared on store shelves, for better or worse (...better).

[Update: After much delay, Four Loko announced the release of its hard seltzer product—a 12% ABV black cherry-flavored drink—on November 5, 2019.]

Only time will tell if spiked sparkling water will make the move from passing fad to permanent grocery cooler staple. Refreshing and all-too- crushable by nature, typically gluten-free, and with a fraction of the calories of even the lightest beer, it’s easy to see why summer drinkers were drawn to the spiked watering hole in droves. With companies big and small experimenting in this increasingly-crowded segment, water may just be the hottest new beverage in town.

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In The Garten Of Gemüt: Olde Towne East’s beautiful new brewery

J.R. McMillan

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It takes more than glass mugs and an umlaut to make an authentic German biergarten. Columbus has no shortage of beer or brats, and our undeniable ethnic heritage puts the bar pretty high for anyone tempted to tap into the old country without seeming opportunistic or insincere. That’s why Gemüt Biergarten was so long in coming, and well worth the wait.

Inspired by their travels and smitten with the sense of community found among the biergarten scene in Germany, Chelsea Rennie and Kyle Hofmeister knew they wanted to build something together that balanced business and ambition with family and friends. Even their pending wedding didn’t diminish or defer their dream. They were in it together— for better or “wurst.” But they soon found themselves sharing that vision. Rob Camstra and Nick Guyton, already acquainted and formerly of Four String, pitched the couple on brewing their own beer on-site instead of simply offering imports and an authentic atmosphere. The idea made financial sense and the fit was fortuitous, as the four found their talents and experience so complementary. A new partnership was obvious and inevitable. Finding the right place proved more challenging.

“We always wanted to be in Olde Towne East; we all live here. But after a year of site selection, we just kept hitting walls,” recalled Rennie, Creative Director for Gemüt Biergarten. Her husband Hofmeister serves as CEO, with Camstra as Director of Brewing Operations and Guyton as Head Brewer. All are co-owners. “We knew wherever the brewery would be, it had to be on solid ground. Everywhere we looked was heavily critiqued. We had to know how much weight the floors could hold, or if we could add onto the building.”

The search slowly expanded, at one point including an old firehouse off South Parsons. But ultimately the building that was once the Columbus Music Hall, also a former firehouse, offered the old bones, ample parking, poured slab, and an enormous outdoor courtyard to complete the allocation of essential spaces. However, firehouses can be complicated retrofits, often as immutable as they are beautiful. Intricate stained glass and warm wooden features now soften the stark utility. The interior isn’t simply transformed; it transports you to another continent. Astute patrons can still spot where the old truck doors used to be, and aside from some subtle architectural cues, Gemüt looks and feels like it was transplanted intact straight from Germany in a giant crate labeled, “Biergarten: Just add Water, Hops, Malt, and Yeast.”

But biergartens aren’t built overnight, and long-awaited is also a polite euphemism for long-delayed. Unforeseen factors contributed to an opening that led into Oktoberfest more by accident than intent. The federal government shutdown earlier this year pushed Gemüt’s brewing operation back months, followed by a liquor permit fiasco that forced a last-minute cancellation of their soft open. Neither scenario is unique, or even uncommon, but the team’s collective experience in both the brewing and restaurant industry helped adjust expectations, avert disaster, and push forward.

“The building was empty for 10 years, so there were some changes in zoning that popped. We were actually ahead of schedule, and then it became a waiting game,” she revealed. “We submitted the paperwork for our brewer’s license in December, but because of backlog from the government shutdown, we didn’t get it approved until July. There were months when we had no idea when we would start brewing or finally open.”

Beer is essentially bread you can drink, but it takes more than an hour in the oven, and time is the only commodity you can’t buy at any price. However, delays sometimes offer a silver lining, getting to revise, refine, and set the stage for a well-oiled opening instead of a hurried or haphazard one. Executive Chef Adam Yoho’s menu continued to evolve just as Jeni Van Hemert’s expertise as Operations Director helped keep the entire project on track without letting the focus on customer experience suffer, despite bureaucratic interruptions that were unavoidably out of their hands.

“It seemed like we were constantly waiting. It was a curse, and a blessing,” Rennie conceded. “We had more time to organize, as uncertain as it was. We just made it work, and when we finally opened, we could enjoy it with family and friends without the stress we expected.”

The menu still isn’t static, but it certainly isn’t your typical bar food, with seasonal offerings complementing traditional standards and a credible beer selection. Rennie’s Macedonian family recipes make an appearance among a variety of chef exclusive wursts from The Butcher & Grocer, signature schnitzel, even a double-boned 20-ounce pork chop and a confit Cornish hen. Gluten-free and vegan options from Pierogi Mountain round out a menu with something for everyone. A wide wine choice, clever cocktails, and unexpected punches are served alongside their authentic German-style beers. The “Woden’s Hunt Dunkel” proved so popular, they actually blew through 30 barrels in just three weeks. Brunch specials on the weekends have already made it the breakfast brewery of choice among those seeking something hearty and heady.

“We may consider a larger commercial kitchen or additional brewing space elsewhere. There will only be one Gemüt, but we’re already considering future concepts,” she revealed. “Because we had such support from our investors, it allowed us to get everything we needed upfront. We never planned on a second phase, with construction interrupting operations after we opened. But this was always meant to be the stepping off point for the next project.”

Even among the owners, there’s an exceptional egalitarianism rare among restaurants and taprooms, the absence of which tends to undermine operations before the first plate or pint is served. The room for individual expression and unnamed passion projects already brewing is a fitting metaphor for the name that emerged late in the planning process, but on time and on brand.

“We knew we got it right when we opened and people instinctively started sharing tables, meeting neighbors they didn’t know. Gemüt is short for ‘gemütlichkeit’, which is the feeling you get in a biergarten. It’s about community and acceptance,” Rennie revealed. “In Germany, at a biergarten, everyone’s equal regardless of social status, income, occupation—you let all of that go. It’s about coming to drink and eat and celebrate together.”

Gemüt Biergarten is located at 734 Oak Street. For hours and operations, visit gemutbiergarten.com.

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“We miss seeing all of you!” Local pizza shop announces sad closure

614now Staff

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In an unfortunate turn of events, Morone's Italian Villa will be permanently closing its doors.

The Italian restaurant at 1490 Bethel Rd. held inconsistent hours this summer after its "fearless leader" JJ was diagnosed with triple positive breast cancer. The restaurant closed earlier this fall with hopes of reopening when she began chemo treatments.

"We almost had an opportunity to reopen, but that did not work out," wrote Morone's on Facebook.

The post went on to say JJ is doing well with her treatment, but that she is no longer able to work in a commercial kitchen.

"We miss seeing all of you!" wrote Morone's to its supporters.

https://www.facebook.com/MoronesItalianVilla/posts/10158066753375016
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