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Restaurant Review: Alqueria puts twists on American faves

Mike Thomas

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Bringing a new restaurant to market is an undertaking notoriously fraught with peril—in most cases.

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“We took the keys the last week of October, and we told everybody we wanted to be open by the middle of January,” chef Patrick Marker says of Alqueria Farmhouse Kitchen, which he co-owns with his business partner, chef Jacob Hough. “The way these things usually work out, there are tons of setbacks, and I think we were really lucky.”

There may be some luck involved in avoiding red tape and construction delays that accompany the typical opening, but the smooth sailing enjoyed by Marker and Hough is also the result of countless hours of hard work
and preparation.

As the former home of The Angry Baker, the University District space Marker and Hough chose for their restaurant was already fairly well-suited to their needs. When it came to executing the renovations necessary to bring their concept to life, the duo did much of the heavy lifting themselves.

“It was a lot of long days of us and our bar manager Michael [Marsan], the three of us in here together, just kind of squirreled away,” explains chef Hough of the construction process. “We know everything about each other now,” he adds with a laugh. “There are no more secrets!”

After 10 years working together in the tight confines of a kitchen, it is hard to imagine that any secrets would remain between Marker and Hough. The two met at upscale German Village staple Barcelona, where they spent a decade working together as sous chefs. 

Prior to their shared stint at Barcelona, the two chefs each forged their paths in the culinary arts in their own way. Hough’s is the classic story of learning from his mother and grandmother in the kitchen as a child, often using ingredients plucked fresh from his grandfather’s garden. He attended culinary school at the Pennsylvania Culinary Academy in Pittsburgh right out of high school and has never looked back.

In Marker’s suburban upbringing, food was viewed as a necessity more than a communal family experience by his busy, working parents. He discovered his love for cooking through a high school job as a dishwasher in a nursing home, where he was sometimes called upon to lend a hand preparing meals. A culinary degree from Johnson and Wales in Provincetown, Rhode Island followed, and Marker spent his twenties in kitchens in tourist destinations of the American South, before finding his way to Columbus’ Barcelona.

It comes as no surprise that the marriage of two distinct food influences is the defining feature of Marker and Hough’s new menu. At Alqueria, locally-sourced American comfort food classics are often presented with a Spanish twist, an homage to the duo’s shared history at Barcelona.

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Pan-roasted Lake Erie walleye is paired with gnocchi in a Spanish-inspired green sofrito broth. The menu’s charcuterie offerings bring Spain’s meats and cheeses to bear, while charred octopus—a holdover favorite from the Barcelona days—encourages patrons to push their boundaries outside of the familiar.  

“It’s been freeing, because the constraint was trying to stay in the realm of Spanish cooking,” chef Marker explains of making the transition from Barcelona to his own restaurant. “There were some flavors that maybe we wanted to explore that we didn’t get the chance to. Here, we’re saying it’s American with some Spanish influence, but we feel like we can pull any ingredient in and make it successful.”

Twists on American classics help the fare at Alqueria stand out from its peers in the elevated comfort food scene. Nashville-style hot chicken, the ubiquitous menu item for any modern comfort food joint worth its salt, is here paired with a cheddar and pork-infused waffle. This lunch entree is served with a drizzle of buttermilk dill dressing and topped with horseradish pickle slices for a unique, deconstructed approach to the modern classic dish.

Marker and Hough take a farm-to-table approach to procuring their ingredients, which in their view means always sourcing local ingredients when they are available, allowing for some wiggle-room for creativity when necessary. (You won’t find too many Ohio-sourced octopi, after all). For the two chefs, the farm-to-table mentality extends to the design sense of the space, which is adorned with ample reclaimed barn wood and assorted antique knick-knacks.

Along with bar manager Marsan, who constructed the restaurant’s drink menu of locally-minded beer, wine, and signature cocktails, chefs Marker and Hough are excited to see what the next chapter of their culinary journey has in store. “If you’re seriously committed to a life in the culinary field, I think the idea is that you want to have your own place,” says Marker, with Hough adding of their experience so far with Alqueria, “It’s been a fun journey; we’re living a childhood dream.” •

Alqueria is located at 247 King Ave. Visit alqueriacolumbus.com for a menu and hours.

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Food & Drink

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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Dems & Diners: 5 local restaurants where you may find presidential candidates

J.R. McMillan

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Columbus is used to letting folks know what we think, particularly when it comes to what we eat. Increasingly rare are restaurants that don’t first test their new recipes and menus here before rolling them out across the country.

Our enviable intersection of demographics and popular culture take on additional significance every four years when the race for the White House heats up and inevitably stops in Central Ohio. Our state remains a reliable political bellwether of who is most likely to become the next president, or stay so. No Republican has ever won without Ohio, starting with Abraham Lincoln. And we’ve only been wrong once since before WWII, picking Nixon over Kennedy. (No one’s perfect.)

But the race arrived a little earlier this time, with a dozen entourages and enumerable news crews all angling for a breakout moment. The Democratic Party Primary Debate in Westerville at Otterbein University wasn’t scheduled there because they have a big auditorium and ample parking. Every campaign knows Ohio doesn’t just predict the next president. It sometimes decides it.

So it would be a shame for all of these candidates and a growing gaggle of political pundits to come all this way and miss out on a great meal with the everyday denizens who are in all likelihood going to determine the direction of the country for the next four years.

Here’s a short list of suggestions for presidential hopefuls who might like to grab a memorable bite, shake some hands, sincerely listen, and maybe even seal the deal.

1. Tommy's Diner | 914 W. Broad St.

This Westside, working-class breakfast and lunch counter has no shortage of options or opinions. Elected officials are as easy to find here as fried eggs. Even the New York Times sent a reporter to camp out in a booth all day in 2016 to take the temperature of voter frustration from across the political spectrum. If you want to impress the locals, order the Big Breakfast—over-easy, pick your pig, and ask for a waffle instead of hotcakes or French Toast. Cut back on the extra carbs by sharing your home fries with your handler.

 2. Ray Ray's Hot Pit | 2619 N. High St.

Nationally known and proudly homegrown, this smoldering standard in the Old North neighborhood attracts even the academics with its gritty authenticity. There are few metaphors for democracy more fitting than standing in line talking politics at a food truck waiting for smoked meat off the bone or on a bun. Can’t decide? Try everything with a Meatsweats box of brisket, pulled pork, jerk chicken, dry rubbed ribs, and a hot link. Wash it all down with a cold Cheerwine. It might score you some poll points in the Carolinas.

3. Dulce Vida Ice Cream Factory | 2400 Home Acre Dr.

Legit Mexican frozen confections have been a hit with more than local Latinos since their second location opened in Westerville. It’s a gathering place for families with origins around the globe drawn together by something sweet, a language everyone speaks with ease. Don’t be the candidate who orders plain old chocolate for fear of offending some key constituency. Go bold with Blackberry and Cheese or Goat Milk Caramel. And if it’s been a trying day on the campaign trail, add a scoop of Almond Tequila. We won’t judge.

4. Momo Ghar | 1265 Morse Rd.

The original hotspot for Himalayan home cooking, nothing quite beats the seasonal chill like a big bowl of delicate dumplings, secretly served at your local international grocery. The Northeast side of the city’s growing immigrant community spans several continents, with recent arrivals from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East joining generations who preceded them. Petite pockets of chicken and pork are outstanding, swimming in a small sea of spicy sauce. But vegetable dumplings and gluten-free lentil cakes could inspire some crossover appeal.

 5. Stauf's Coffee Roasters | 1334 Neil Ave.

Anchored in Grandview for 30 years, Stauf’s latest location in a recently renovated church just south of Ohio State’s campus is both a departure for the brand, but a reminder of why they’ve stayed ahead of the corporate coffee curve. Millennials could be the largest voting bloc in 2020, so their support is essential and concerns impossible to ignore. Don’t risk a social media fiasco by botching the order of a convoluted caffeinated concoction. No need to be a hero here. Just get a large regular in a mug—black. Done.

The third Democratic Party Primary Debate, hosted by CNN and the New York Times, will air live at 8PM from Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio.

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