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A Taste of the Short North
C.B. Findlay's monthly look at the local dining experience
cindybent@earthlink.net


Tots at the table
April 2005

Cartoon by Susan Sturgill

Big things are afoot this spring – namely yours truly. Being eight months pregnant not only has made me feel like the size of a small Volkswagon, but brings a new urgency to my already natural preoccupation with food!

After this month, I’m going to be taking a brief break from this column to readjust to life with baby. But before I do, I hope you’ll indulge me in a little self-interest – thinking ahead to my little bundle of joy, I decided to scope out destinations in the Short North where I’ll find it most conducive to dine out when we just can’t find a sitter.

The Short North is, of course, in many ways a family place. There are ice cream parlors, sweet shops, and the Gallery Hop is always a family affair. But for the most part, at first glimpse, the very sophisticated dining scene we’re so proud of might seem like grown-up territory.

A few calls around made it plain that that’s not necessarily so. Many places along High Street not only offer kid portions but lots of items created just for little Jack and Jane’s, shall we say, discriminating palate.

There are some great places in the neighborhood that are not only somewhere you can bring your kid to if you want, but also a place to have an actively fun family outing.

Buca di Beppo, 343 N. Front St., for instance, is fantastic for kids. First off, it’s a party place; most tables have at least five people seated, and with the maze of corridors and low ceilings, believe it or not, it’s so loud there that even toddler meltdowns go virtually unnoticed (an occasion I experienced recently firsthand – and it was no biggie at all).

Think about how many fussy preschoolers you know who will eat almost nothing but pasta with butter to begin with.

The staff and menu are very kid-friendly and can bring just about anything you request for kids, even a single meatball (albeit a gigantic one, bigger than many hamburgers!).

There’s garlic bread, multiple pasta sides with cheese, butter or red sauce to choose from, and lots of other food kids tend to like. And finally, Buca dubs itself a “family style” restaurant, meaning the dishes are almost all meant to serve at least three people, so you can divvy your little tyrant as large or small a portion as you choose from the main dishes.

There are the neighborhood chains, of course – Donato’s, White Castle and the like are fun for a treat every now and then. Philips & Son Coney Island, 747 N. High, is a good choice for “the best coneys in town.” Pizza Gourmet, 976 N. High, is great for the ultimate kid-tested food, plus features some more highbrow toppings for the grownups like shrimp, and also subs and salads.

The North Market is a wonderful kid place – no formal sit-down requirements; kids can walk around the market with you and choose their own food; there’s very wide variety for every course, although mostly limited to lunch and breakfast hours.

The Japanese Steak House, 479 N. High, is a fine night out for older kids. Keep in mind that the main draw there is a gigantic searing hot grill at every table. But the place does feature fairly kid-friendly choices like steak and chicken with the added attention-grabbing bonus that it’s all cooked tableside. It’s a teensy bit pricier but great for celebrations, report card reward dinners and the like. Plus you’re close enough to not have to move the car for a jaunt to Coldstone Creamery on the Cap or the North Market for dessert.

Speaking of ice cream places, Emack and Bolio’s, 945 N. High, is a grand joint kid-and-adult outing, with a bright friendly atmosphere, tons of space including lounge chairs and couches to hang out on, ice cream concoctions for the rugrats and coffee drinks and snacks for the grownups.

Some of the finer dining establishments in the area are a little more child-friendly than one might think: Martini’s Italian Bistro, 445 N. High, for instance, offers a children’s menu featuring “P’sketti” (is that a proprietary term?), burgers, chicken tenders and a Kiddie Pizza.

RJ Snappers, 700 N. High, even has some fishy options on their kid’s menu like coconut shrimp and a “kid fillet” plus the ever-popular chicken fingers and pasta options. And they provide high chairs.

The Northstar Café, 951 N. High, offers three made-from-scratch organic meals each day that any parent can feel at ease putting in their kids’ systems, with soups, sandwiches and salads daily. Special items for child-sized portions are limited, though, to pancakes on the weekend breakfast and brunch menu, and quesadillas and pizza for the lunch and dinner hours.

Similarly, Benevolence Café, 41 W. Swan St., is great for kids who need their veggies. The all-vegetarian and vegan made-from-scratch café has a menu online you can check out before you go to scope out whether Junior will find a vegetable he’ll eat – but don’t tell him it’s all vegetarian, he’ll probably just think it’s plain good. Their Web site address is www.benevolencecafe.com.

So before you give up on your favorite neighborhood for dining with the whole family unit, take a few minutes to call around and check out the options available. Lots of local attractions not listed here you might not consider like Barley’s, 467 N. High, and Gordon Biersch Brewery, 401 N. Front St., also offer limited children’s menus plus high chairs and booster seats.

Have a great spring! And we hope to be able to see you out in the Short North sometime soon – all three of us!

North Market's Fiery Foods Festival
March 2005

Cartoon by Susan Sturgill

Something like spring is dawning as the snow falls and melts and falls again. What better way to welcome in the spring season than with a celebration of spicy foods that can ward off any chill?

It was my pleasure to serve as a judge for the Customer Chili Cook-Off and Amateur Salsa competition at the North Market's Fiery Foods Festival on Feb. 19.

But first, a brief preamble – prepare to bid a warm welcome to Tyfoon, a Thai- and French-fusion fine dining restaurant scheduled to open its doors at the end of March in the sad gap where Strada World Cuisine once flourished on Vine St.

Also bid a long-awaited hello to Paul Liu's Liu Pon-Xi featuring Far East Cuisine and Libations on the southeast corner of the Cap at 8 E. Goodale Street – finally open and named after months of suspense! Word on the street has it that this restaurant is a visually spectacular addition to the neighborhood, so stop on by.

Now, to the feisty foods – I never knew there were so many ways to make chili, and make it well.

The duties of a food columnist are seldom taxing, it is true, but I have to admit I was a little bit daunted when I realized that this particular job entailed quaffing a quantity of spicy Mexican concoctions beginning at 10 a.m.

As I am currently in the third trimester of pregnancy, I already get heartburn just from smelling toast. But, I reasoned, neither salsa nor chili could reasonably be expected to cause serious birth defects or permanent digestive injury – and as my husband was out of town, my two cats and dog would be the only casualties of any aftershocks.

So, I took my place at the judge's table on the balcony of the North Market with two other esteemed panelists: Miriam Bowers Abbott, food writer at The Other Paper; and Jeff Behrendt, the 2004 Chili Cook-Off champ.

We started off with the eight contenders in the salsa category. We three judges were given a basket of tortilla chips, a bottle of water, and about eight seconds with each salsa, marking it for flavor, aroma, consistency or texture and all-around quality.

It was probably a good thing that there weren't more than eight contenders or more than eight seconds with each salsa. As is often the case with chili peppers, the heat crept up and stuck on our palates until it was hard to taste much else.

But in the end, Randy Frazier's perfectly chunky, tomato-ie mix with just enough heat and spice took the day, much to the delight of his entire extended family who all seemed to be there with him.

We posed happily with the winner and then wandered down to the Market for a brief break to extinguish our tongues before the start of the big show of the day, the chili competition.
Twenty competitors manned their crock pots and dished out their masterpieces. We judges armed ourselves with bottled water, pens and pads, and an army of plastic spoons. We tried to ignore the hundred or so people clustered around essentially to watch us eat.

A crowd lined the balcony and stood with arms crossed impatiently, watching us scoop and ponder, over and over, waiting for their own turn at the pots only after we judges were done pontificating.

“They're making me nervous,” said Abbott.

But the chili just kept coming, cup after cup after cup. It's a testimony to all of the entrants that somehow they did not blur together; each clearly held its own identity in our memories.
There were goat and lamb's meat chilies, white chilies with chicken, spicy-sweet Cincinnati-style and several that clearly worked in a good hit of beer – one of my own personal favorite additions.

Another outstanding version successfully meshed chocolate into a smoky, slightly spicy mix of pinto and black beans, green chilies and jalapenos.

Behrendt, a prize-winning veteran of both chili and salsa cook-offs around the country and even in Mexico, was a cheerful font of expertise.

“I look for aroma first, it has to have great scent, the kind of thing that makes the whole house smell good. Then, consistency, and just enough heat to it, not enough to overpower the spices, you have to taste it. And the flavors should all meld together, nothing should stick out too much and be distracting,” he says.

Speaking of heat, fewer were hot hot hot than I expected. There was plenty of flavor, but awarding one higher than the last or the next turned out to be a tricky business.
Finally we came to the last (but not least – the Man's Favorite ranked pretty high in my book, despite being nearly stone-cold). The second we put our plastic spoons down, the floodgates opened to the crowds and we three judges quickly became irrelevant.

In the end, after tallying our scores, the winner was declared: Saralee Etter of Pataskala, who had produced a fabulous turkey chili that had it all - powerful aroma, great consistency, and we judges were impressed that a turkey chili could be so flavorful. Definitely look for the recipe for this one on the North Market's Web site in days to come.

Etter said one secret was to brown the veggies together with the spices rather than the meat, but I forget exactly why. I'll give it a try on my next pot.

The People's Choice award, after the dust had cleared, went to Josey Lynch's Chili Caliente, billed as “Meaty and Hot. 100% all-natural from Josefina's Cocina,” so if you see Josey-fina about the Short North make sure you get her recipe too.

By all accounts, the second annual Fiery Foods Festival was a rousing success, and Executive Director David Wible says next year's Festival seems like a sure thing.
No one on the balcony that day had to eat lunch if they sampled all twenty. I was about full to the gills myself – I could barely cram down a scoop of Jeni's Ice Cream after (heroically, I prevailed).

And a few days later, my cats and dog seem to have survived. So thanks much to the Market staff for inviting me along for the ride, and if you've got an opening next year, I'd love to sit at that table again.

Just leave a pack of Rolaids on the Salsa table next time though.

Bringing in the New Year
December 2004

Cartoon by Susan Sturgill

It's hard to believe that winter nears as I write this column. It's almost 60 degrees out and I just picked one of the best roses of the season from my rosebush. But the calendar cannot lie for long; snow will fly, the year will end, and a new one will begin.

One new beginning in the Short North will happen before the year ends. On December 8, Network Restaurant and Video Bar will throw open its doors at 525 North Park Street, in the former U-Be-U location.

It's an ambitious undertaking – seating 250-300 for one thing, and with a mission to bring “explode-in-your-mouth kind of food, the kind of food that makes everyone want to stop talking and just eat,” says co-owner Denise Dunlap.

The space is decorated for maximum “big city” shock and awe, with industrial décor, a wall of video monitors across the large back bar area to echo whatever live blues, jazz or big band ensemble is on stage for the night.

Dunlap says they're working for a trifecta on the menu. The main menu will have an American focus; former Strada chef Darrell Grimmett has luckily for us landed back in the neighborhood and is currently developing standouts there.

Part two will be a prominent raw bar featuring the best oysters, clams, crab legs and more that can be brought in, and part three will be a sushi bar in another section of the restaurant. Diners can sit in the main dining room or at either the sushi or raw bar and order off of any menu.

“It's going to be very unique,” says Dunlap. “This will be the kind of place you want to take clients to for dinner and drinks, and they will be very impressed with what they're walking in to; at the same time it will be the perfect place to have your 50th wedding anniversary or other party.”

Dress will be casual; the menu is still in the planning stages, but prices should be about $15 and up for entrees.

The end of the year should not be only about welcoming the new, but reveling with old friends. Should old acquaintance be forgot, we will now bring them to mind and let you know just a few of the grand festivities planned for one of the busiest dining-out nights of the year – New Year's Eve.

For some, it's time to pull out all the stops. L'Antibes, 772 N. High Street, for instance, will be offering a prix fixe three-course dinner that will make the toast at midnight seem like an anticlimax.

For $75 per person, diners may choose from beef tenderloin with truffle sauce, pheasant with pommery mustard sauce, or similarly superb fish, veal or lobster entrees, plus four appetizers, soup or salad, dessert and coffee. There will be only two seatings, one early and one late, so make your calls soon.

Basi Italia will feature its regular menu early in the evening, but at 9 p.m. will offer a blockbuster $150 five-course meal plus a different wine offering with each course and bubbly at midnight. The restaurant's Web site will have the full menu as it's completed, or call the restaurant, but again, call soon, as this charming bistro seats only 43.

Zola Dining Lounge, 782 N. High Street, one of the newest of the Short North's fine dining establishments, will also offer a prix fixe menu, of four courses plus a glass of high-quality champagne for $85 per person.

Zola concentrates on fine beverages such as Veuve Clicquot and Moet y Chandon Brut Rose. The food is equally enticing – chef James Boyle's entrée selections for the evening will include standouts like duck three ways, with honey, armagnac and walnuts, and Dungeness crab bisque with champagne craime fraiche. Again, the special menu should be available on the Web site soon.

For those more interested in the merrymaking and libation part of the evening, Skully's Music-Diner, 1151 N. High Street, is always a lively spot and will feature live alternative rock plus party hats and a champagne toast at midnight for an extremely reasonable cover (always below $10). The full food menu will be available, the big stage and dance floor will be in full swing, and the patio will be open as weather permits.

Brian Boru's will also be hopping, also featuring live music (probably blues) and a champagne toast for a mere $5 cover.

December 31 at the Short North Tavern, 674 N. High Street, is a slightly quieter institution for many throughout the neighborhood. Manager Helen Zapol says as usual, before- and after-parties will feature there, and the regular patrons who want to see in the New Year will be there, as will the Tavern's signature hot buttered rum. Local band Ma Rainy may play their final show at the Tavern that night; check with the Tavern for updates.

These are only a few of the fine dining and celebration plans for the neighborhood; the streets will surely be packed from arch to arch late into the night, even if they won't be lit (the arches, that is). However, if you plan to celebrate the New Year, remember that walking home is always the best option after a night of revelry, and with all of the fine food and open doors right on your doorstep, why go any further?

Happy New Year, and see you in 2005!


Gobbler sandwich selections for fans of the bird
November 2004

Gobble gobble! By the time December hits, most people are truly turkeyed out. Turkey breast, turkey soup, turkey sandwiches … my mom even makes turkey tacos (they're great, by the way).

“Turkey is the last thing people want to eat when they come to a restaurant in November. During Thanksgiving season, we sell more filets and steak than anything. I've tried turkey specials in other areas of the country and you might sell one. Beef prices generally even take a hike during that period of time. But throughout the holidays, we'll have wild game specials,” says James Boyle, chef at Zola Dining Lounge.

But there are a few devoted fans of the bird out there who just can't get enough of the stuff. This column is for them.

Turkey has its fans for a reason. A turkey typically has about 70 percent white meat and 30 percent dark meat. Turkey meat has fewer calories and less fat than other meats. It also contains several nutrients such as selenium and niacin, thought to help fight cancer; B vitamins, and zinc.

Perhaps because of these benefits, Americans are gobbling more gobblers than ever before. In 2003, according to the National Turkey Federation, U.S. consumption of turkey was 17.4 pounds per person, up from around 10 pounds in 1980. In 2004, the Butterball Turkey Company processed some 830 million pounds of turkey – and they're only the third-largest processor in the country.

Benjamin Franklin famously advocated the turkey as the official bird of the United States as a much more “respectable bird” than the bald eagle, as well as a “true native original of America” and a “bird of courage.”

Explorers of the New World brought the bird back to Europe, where they quickly became popular eats and were being bred by the 16th century. In fact, by the time of that famous first Thanksgiving Dinner, the pilgrims were already well familiar with turkey and most likely actually had it on the table for the feast.

So, just can't wait for turkey sandwiches? Relatives make off with your leftovers? Never fear, there are plenty of great eateries in the Short North where you can get your bird fix.

Generally, of course, the turkey staple on the menu is a sandwich. Here are just a few of those that stand out in the neighborhood.

Elements Grille, 733 N. High Street, formerly known as J&G Diner, offers a great pair of examples – an open faced turkey sandwich on Texas toast topped with mashed potatoes and homemade gravy, mmm, talk about comfort food.

They've also got a classic turkey Reuben on rye, complete with the obligatory sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and 1,000 Island dressing.

Barley's, 467 N. High Street, General Manager and Executive Chef Jason Fabian has dreamed up the perfect burger for the turkey fan: the turkey nut burger with parmesan, oregano, basil, and thyme, plus a tasty spicy mayo on a Kaiser bun. All of those flavors melt together in a surprisingly juicy and heartily appealing combo.

“The thing that's unique about ours is that a lot of places use only white meat when they serve a turkey burger; we use a blend of dark and white, and you get a more robust flavor,” says Fabian.

Barley's also has a smoked turkey and apple-smoked bacon sandwich served on cracked wheat with sharp white cheddar, and, as Fabian says, sometimes simple is really good.

The North Star Café, 951 N. High Street, newly in business and hopping busy, puts its own stamp on the turkey sandwich. Co-owner Katy Malhame says they smoke their organic free-range turkey breast right in the restaurant's own smoker in the back for a pair of super-fresh and flavorful dishes.

The home-smoked turkey sandwich comes on homemade (like everything else there) focaccia bread with rosemary aioli, roasted red peppers and organic greens. They also pile the smoked turkey on their chopped salad, made with organic greens, bacon, blue cheese, toasted almonds, homemade croutons and café vinaigrette dressing. Both dishes are regular lunch and dinner menu items for under $8.

By the way, the café has become the Short North's new hot spot for brunch; if you're anxious to check it out, best come early – they open at 7 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday, and for the past few, says Malhame, “there wasn't an empty seat in the house for hours.”

Skully's Music-Diner, 1151 N. High Street, has a spicy take on the turkey sandwich with “the Firebird,” a smoked turkey sandwich with hot pepper jack cheese and pepper bacon, topped with lettuce, tomato, onion and aioli sauce on white bread. They've also got a smoky version of the Turkey Rueben, both for $6.

And for something almost but not completely different, Pizza Gourmet, 976 N. High Street, offers the Turkey Rueben pizza – yes, a pizza with 1,000 Island dressing, cheese, turkey and kraut. It's not on the regular menu, and it's also not the prettiest pizza you've ever seen, say those at the counter, but it is available on special request and word has it, it's very popular with those who remember it.

Enjoy the turkey season, then, knowing if you choose to do something radical with your own turkey leftovers – (turkey tacos, anyone?) – a first-class turkey sandwich is just around the corner.

Henrys pass Benevolence Cafe and Bakery into grateful hands
July 2004

They say every time one door closes, another opens. Nancy and Larry Henry have closed the door to their careers as restaurateurs in order to throw wide open the gates of their lives as preservationists. The pair have sold their two Benevolence businesses in order to devote themselves fully to their calling: Highlands Nature Sanctuary, the 1,700-acre wilderness preserve they have somewhat miraculously cobbled together.

Benevolence, A Café at 41 Swan St. and Benevolence, A Bakery in the North Market have been purveyors of hearty, healthy food in the Short North for almost 20 years. The endeavor started in the market as a craft boutique, Mill Creek Farm Gift Shop. It sat next to a bakery at the market's entrance, and, said Nancy Henry in an interview last year, the place next door called out to them.

"We'd say to each other, 'That could be such a cool little bakery.' It was always changing hands every couple of years. One day, we said, 'If you ever want to sell, let us know.' And they said yes!"

Nancy describes the philosophy behind the bakery that emerged as "Food is love." Both she and Larry come from close-knit families, hers with a German background and his from Appalachia.

"For both of us, it was about family, intimacy, safety, love, nurturing, all those warm fuzzy family values," Nancy said last year. Larry took over the bakery with the goal of transforming those values directly into hand-made breads, cookies, muffins and rolls.

Years later, after the renovation of the North Market, came Benevolence, A Café, just behind the market. For almost 10 years, Columbus vegetarians, vegans and just about anyone else who appreciated fresh, natural food had a lunchtime home.  

Supporting Sanctuary, changing direction

But at about the same time, the Henrys happened on a patch of land in an area of Highland County known as the Rocky Fork Gorge, about 70 miles southwest of Columbus.

The area's spectacular gorges and nearly pristine woodlands were magnetic to the pair, both naturalists for the Ohio state park system in years past. They purchased a small piece of property to preserve it from development - an act that would, unbeknownst to them, set their path for the next decade and, it now seems, into the 21st century.

The more they saw of Rocky Fork, Nancy Henry says now, the more their mission to preserve what was left of the ancient and fragile Eastern old-growth forest snowballed, and the Highlands Nature Sanctuary was born.

Fortunately for the future of Eastern prairies and woodlands, and the planet in general, the Sanctuary has bloomed beyond all possible imagination. Twelve years after their first purchase, the Sanctuary has grown to an incredible 1,700 acres and more than $5 million in land purchases. The Henrys are now leading a charge to preserve what they call the Arc of Appalachia, encompassing 75 miles of prairies and woodlands, and if the past is any measure, they'll succeed.

But the Sanctuary took the Henrys away from Benevolence and vice versa. Although the café and bakery have been run for several years by a unique system of rotating Sanctuary interns, two missions were too much for Nancy and Larry to do justice to. The years of round-the-clock work came to a head this spring.

"It was an instantaneous revelation," Nancy says. "We were going full steam forward with everything. My life has always been that way - like being hit by huge bolt of lightning. I went in one week - all of the sudden, it was like it was someone else's café. It was the strangest event in my life; it felt like, oh, this is a really pretty place, but it was like looking at it for the first time. I knew at that point we couldn't keep going."

She slept on the idea for three nights - her rule - and then told Larry she'd sell the café, and he agreed. So without hesitation or reluctance both the café and bakery were put - almost thrown - up for sale. And as if the gods of the wilderness willed it, seemingly perfect new stewards for each came along almost instantly.

Kevin Ayres, a Culinary Institute of America grad and wine consultant, says he had been toying for some time with the idea of pitching the wine biz and starting a pie bakery in the North Market. Coincidentally, the day he finally decided to talk to North Market management about rental rates, was the very morning that Nancy informed the market that Benevolence would not be renewing the bakery's lease and she and Larry were looking for a buyer.

"I spoke with the Henrys that Tuesday, went in to hang out with them on Saturday to see how the place ran, and fell in love with the place within the first four hours," Ayres says. He decided to bite on May 1, and by June 1, it was his. 

New owners - but the bread remains the same

Ayres has plenty of restaurant industry experience, having served the obligatory stint at Lindey's in German Village as dining room manager (doesn't it seem as if everyone in the business in Columbus has apprenticed there?). He also has cooked, catered and managed hotel food service in Boston, New York City, the Hudson Valley and Columbus.

Ayres says he's not had to cut any staff, though some have moved to part time. He now bakes everything in-house, though the Henrys produced some bread in the café. Despite having a busy oven right now, Ayres sees plenty of room for expansion, possibly adding another oven and some contract work in the future.

Over on Swan Street, a trio of friends, Gay James, Tricia Smith-Langwasser and Luann Riley, purchased Benevolence Café from the Henrys under similar circumstances. Nancy Henry simply posted a notice on the chalkboard in the café this April that the place was up for sale.

Riley and Smith-Langwasser had been looking for some time for a business to run together, but ideas like a parcel shipping store or real estate management hadn't seemed right.

When Riley, in for lunch, saw Henry's sign and discussed it with the other two, the idea grew roots. Just as at the bakery, the café changed hands on June 1.

This is the first restaurant for any of the three. Riley formerly worked for the Columbus Pubic Library in information systems, James offers tai-chi instruction around the Central Ohio area and Smith-Langwasser left social work a year ago to focus with her husband on their auto repair business.

But all three are tickled to be in the café now, and all lend a hand with the cooking and running of the business, though Riley is the one putting in the most front-of-the-curtain time. The three aren't completely without industry insight - Smith-Langwasser's father owned two much-remembered restaurants in downtown Columbus during her childhood: Smitty's, located where City Center is today, and the Clock, now the Elevator Brewery and Restaurant, on High Street.

"I think it's a really good fit for all of us, really exciting," Smith-Langwasser says. "The customers are wonderful, and loyal; they've just been really great."

No drastic changes are planned for either business in the near term.

"Our biggest response so far has been, 'Please don't change the lunch menu!' and we won't be," says Smith-Langwasser.

Ayres comments, "Countless warm and caring regular customers loved Benevolence for many years and voiced their concern straightforward to me, 'Don't take this away, it's my favorite item!' So I not dare make any huge changes right away."

The new owners plan only addition to and expansion of the popular lineups, and will stay true to the vegetarian, natural, organic mission. The café will be open longer hours, and started opening for Sunday brunch as of mid-June. Ayres would also like to add weekday breakfasts and possibly weekend dinners; he also has some ideas for new breads and plans to offer, of course, more pies.

Both businesses intend to maintain connections with the Sanctuary, taking in donations and staying in touch. And all four owners profess that the Highland Bread is their favorite Benevolence offering, so rest assured, this loaf will live on.

For the Henrys, surprisingly, all this means it's not hard to walk away. They've got enough on their plates. The nonprofit Highlands Sanctuary is trying to raise $600,000 more in the next two years to purchase the heart of the Rocky Fork Gorge and advance the mission of nature education.

"When it's time for the fledgling to leave the nest, I say, 'Go for it'," Nancy says. "I've had mostly a feeling of satisfied pride; there's this feeling of completion - we did it, and did it well, and Larry feels a big ditto."

 To reach Benevolence, A Bakery, call 221-1833; Benevolence Café is at 221-9330.

Paul Liu's pioneer spirit thrives on High Street
June 2004

Paul Liu kicks back in his chair, and lifts the glass of Pinot Noir.          

He has gathered his friends and business associates at Haiku, his flagship property on High Street, to toast his newest endeavor -- an Asian-themed restaurant in Union Station Place, still in the planning stages – and hopefully, to find a name fit to christen it.

“This is the part I love best,” he says, passing around a plate of Haiku’s excellent sushi. “The most fun part of opening a new restaurant is the brainstorming in the beginning.”

Liu has plenty of experience on which to base that opinion. By his own count, when he seats his first customers in the new place some time this fall, he’ll have opened his twenty-fifth restaurant. Restaurant watchers and compatriots in Columbus agree, Liu’s creativity shines in a town increasingly thick with dining choices.

Short Northies are familiar with Liu’s brand. Haiku, at 800 North High Street, has been a hot spot in the neighborhood since its opening in 1997. Almost two years ago, Liu opened Bento Go-Go in the Ohio State campus area at 1728 North High, and it’s quickly become popular with the campus set.

The as-yet unnamed establishment on the Cap over I-670 (as Union Station Place is known) will be Liu’s third along High Street. The buzz on the street has already begun. What will Liu do next?

Restaurants are in Liu’s blood. Born in Korea to a family of restaurateurs, Liu has been steeped in the food industry his entire life. Together, he, his father and five siblings have perhaps a century’s worth of industry experience among them.

Liu says he has learned much from his father, who built one of the largest chicken farms in Korea in the 1960s and ’70s. The small empire grew from one building to five, and then in 1970, disaster struck.

“One night,” Liu says, “all the chickens died. A disease just tore through them all. There was not as much knowledge of vaccines, then. The farm had to be sold off.”

His mother, he recounts, had always wanted to come to America. So the family changed course. His father emigrated to the West Coast, and three years later, when Paul was 12, the family followed.

Almost right away, the Liu family dove into a very traditional path for Asian immigrants -- they opened a Chinese restaurant. Paul grew up at the Great Wall, the first among many for the family, near the Atlanta airport.

Decades of bussing tables and washing dishes convinced the young Paul Liu that his future lay down a different path.

“I was going to be the doctor in the family,” he remembers with a laugh. He enrolled at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, pre-med. But somehow, the restaurant business sucked him in again.

A friend of the family convinced Liu to help him open a Chinese restaurant in Greenville even while Liu attended classes. He did; the venture was a success, and the friend offered to buy Liu out after a year.

Liu took the money and ran -- to a vacation in Asia. “I took the money and bought shitaki mushrooms in Taiwan, and sold them here. At that time, in the 1980s, that was a hot market for those. I paid my tuition with them for the next two years,” he says.

From then, the die was cast. Family members around the country continued opening Asian restaurants, first in Atlanta, then Phoenix, and Liu was always on board. Then, twelve years ago, Liu scouted out Columbus as his next frontier, partly because there was family here, but also because of the city is known as fertile ground for new restaurants.

“The economy is so stable here, there’s great disposable income in town and a low cost of living. Everywhere is only 15 minutes away from downtown… and it was a good city to raise a family,” he says of his bet on Columbus.

His first move in Buckeye country was China Gourmet, at Stoneridge in Gahanna with family members. That was a resounding success. He sold his interest in the restaurant (it’s still popular in the area) and the rest is history.

On the eve of his first endeavor, in his teens in Atlanta, his father told him if he were smart, he’d do something else. Nine out of ten restaurants fail in their first year, he pointed out. The hours are long and the work hard.

Twenty-four restaurants later, though he’s not sorry he took his father’s advice, he admits the going can be rough.

“I was once told by a wise man that I have that pioneering spirit in me. Then he says, ‘You know, Paul, who have the most arrows in their backs? Pioneers!’” He laughs. “I think I have a lot of arrows in my back.”

SuLan was one. Though he does not disclose figures, Liu concedes that the unique Eurasian bistro in Bexley was a money loser. That restaurant, which some observers say suffered from lack of parking, was open for less than four years. Liu sold it to another area restaurateur, who will remodel and reopen under a different concept this summer.

But Haiku and Bento Go-Go hum along happily, and Liu’s reputation for serving up a great meal have not suffered.

“I have Haiku on my list as one of the top ten Asian restaurants in the city,” says Doral Chenoweth, the Dispatch’s august restaurant writer. “I had SuLan on there too, and I’m going to have to take it off. I liked the food, the atmosphere, the architecture, the décor,  everything.”

Chenoweth praises Liu’s creativity in coming up with new concepts and dishes.

“He’s an entrepreneur in the industry, no doubt about that,” Chenoweth says.

In some ways, Liu’s style is akin to a serial high tech industry entrepreneur, a seasoned businessman with a talent for dreaming up cutting-edge ideas and putting expert execution in motion. He may hold on to a good idea, but in general will move on in a few years and try to turn the concept over for a profit.

“He’s not a flipper in the true sense, he doesn’t buy junk properties and give them the ‘Oxydol’ treatment,” says Chenoweth. “He builds quality from the ground up.”

Dan Reese, Liu’s former director of operations at Haiku, says Liu’s talent is as a big-picture person who also has a talent for collaboration and delegation. Balance, says Reese, is Liu’s trademark.

“He’s extremely bright, he has imagination and creativity with the best of them,” says Reese. “Paul is ultraprogressive, he writes with broad strokes. And what one of Paul’s great abilities is, he can maximize the talents of the people he surrounds himself with.”

The flowing wall fountain at the former SuLan, the bright urban design and saketinis (flavor-infused sake martinis) at Bento Go-Go, the concept at Haiku Poetic Food and Art, all are examples of that ingenuity.

On the other hand, it’s not all about business - Liu is also a passionate chef. He’s holding information about the new restaurant close to the vest for now, but he will say he’ll be back in the kitchen himself for the first time in a few years, and he aspires to continue his tradition of presenting Asian dishes in a new light.

“I try to come out with pure dishes, not mutated. Our kitchens are more like French restaurants’ set ups – the food is made to order, is more volatile, not all premixed scoop and use,” says Liu.

Liu points to the example of tofu, storebought versus fresh. 

“No one knows what fresh tofu is, it’s lost. If you make your tofu homemade, the flavor is so much more intense, fresher, more unique,” he says.

“There is about a ten percent difference between excellent and mediocre wine. But that ten percent, you have to work twice as hard to achieve that, and I think that’s the same no matter what field you work in. That ten percent is what we strive for every day. That’s the difference that makes life that much better, that makes the air seem fresher and the flowers brighter.”

So what will Liu do next? The wine in the bottles is gone, as are a few Sapporo Wind beers. Only stray grains of rice remain on the sushi plates, but the laughter of the party is still ringing around the table.

Liu is toying with a list of possibilities drawn up over the long evening. He folds the paper up, grins, and sticks it into his pocket. If he’s settled on a name, he’s not telling. The new restaurant will have to remain unchristened, for now. And High Street is just going to have to wait a few months and see.

Paul Liu would like to invite Short North Gazette readers to try and name his restaurant.

Editor's Note: Liu Pon-Xi opened on February 19, 2005 at 8 East Goodale Street on the Cap. The number there is 614-437-8168.

Host of eateries cropping up along High Street
May 2004

The fickle Ohio skies could pall at any moment but just now, the birds are back, the cherry trees bloom, and restaurateurs are already sweeping off their patios for the sweet spring days to come.

Speaking of blooming, the Short North dining scene is poised to blossom even brighter than ever. A host of new restaurants are poking up like shoots on along High Street, and more will follow all summer and into fall.

Not one but two ice cream franchises will appear; along with a bistro and a coffee shop-wine bar and to add the cherry on top, every new establishment will feature outdoor seating.

Zola Dining Lounge
, for instance, has been open since the first week of April at the former location of Fresno, at 782 North High Street. The popular patio was already open before May had sprung, and a complete rehab to match the interior's sleek new look is underway.

Zola offers upscale urban casual dining and a late-night lounge complete with couches anyone would look hip slouching on. A huge glass chandelier by local Columbus College of Art and Design glass professor Dawson Kellogg is the centerpiece for a space filled with CCAD-produced art.

They're open seven evenings a week from 4 p.m. until 2:30 a.m., serving dinner from 5:30-10 p.m. and a late nite menu after that 'til 2 a.m.

Co-owner Tom Suddes says the response has been so tremendous that in addition to the suggested dinner-hour reservations, they're going to start asking for a heads-up for groups coming in late-night, all the way until 2 a.m.

He and partners Keith Johnson and Don Roberts have kept Fresno's wood-fired oven stoked to offer bar foods like gourmet pizzas; Chef James Boyle's dinner menu sparkles with dishes like "Martini" of spicy sashimi tuna tartar with sesame wonton crisps ($11) as a starter or veal porterhouse with caramelized cipollinis and sherry vinegar sauce and buttermilk mashed potatoes ($26).

Specials always include a selection of between two and five fresh fish flown in daily.

Zola also has one of the more inspired wine lists around, including, for instance, offerings as various as Maison Champy Vosnes-Romanee les Suchots ($63), a purebred Côte de Nuits Pinot Noir, or Seghesio Omaggio, a California Italien-style blend ($53), plus a complete selection of wines by the glass.

Suddes says in keeping with the sophisticated tone and fare, Veuve Clicquot will soon be available by the glass along with an astonishing variety of vodkas. They're already running a happy hour special one night a week featuring Level, Absolut's new premium vodka.Later on in the summer, completion of some long-anticipated construction projects in the Short North will finally bear fruit.

Union Station Place, Continental Real Estate's brave new span over I-670 with a string of just-minted addresses along High Street, will host three new restaurants.


On the northeast corner, closest to Callander dry cleaners, Cup o' Joe and its Siamese twin Mojo will jazz you up and ease you down with its combo barista-wine bar seating 60 plus its High Street patio. The day-night concept is already working at Easton, and the new location hopes to draw on the Convention Center's proximity early morning to the wee hours.

Cup o' Joe/Mojo doesn't have a firm opening date yet (the target is late summer or early fall) but they already have a signature drink combining their two adult beverage concepts: the espresso martini. And when the various resulting buzzes have gone to your head, you can email your friends about it from the wireless internet accessible right there at the club.

Central Ohio's newest addiction, Cold Stone Creamery, will also be a tempting tenant of the Cap. Executive Managing Partner Joseph Arnett says the Short North was a no-brainer when he and his three partners began scouting out homes for their 17 Ohio and Michigan franchise locations.Cold Stone Creamery features ice creams made on the premises and then kneaded together with goodies such as candy bars, fruits or nuts on the advertised cold granite stone and served up in a waffle cone also made fresh on-site.

And the third new reason to throw your diet over the bridge down onto I-670 will come some time late this summer, as well. Local restaurateur Paul Liu will expand his growing High Street empire with an as-yet unnamed Chinese concept restaurant on the southeast corner of that will fill 6,200 square feet and seat roughly 210 plus again that lovely patio space outside. Valet parking will be available to the Union Station restaurants.

Farther north, at 945 North High Street, the Wood Company's renovated Quest Diagnostics building, ice cream was promised last year, but the original deal for Mrs. Wiggins fell through.

But the idea was so appealing that ice cream it shall be nonetheless; former Ohio Dominican soccer coach Allen Green and his fiancé Joy Jackson will open franchise Emack & Bolio's some time in mid-June there instead.

The Boston chain with roots going back to the '70s features rock-inspired flavors like Deep Purple cow black raspberry with chocolate chips, or "Twisted Dee-Light" (chocolate ice cream, fudge chunks, and brownies). They also boast their own line of gourmet coffees and microbrewed sodas.

"This is not going to look like every other ice cream shop. We're trying to really make this a place where people will want to hang out," says Green. "There will be local art on the walls, and open mike nights for music once a week."

Green says the feel will be more coffee house than ice cream emporium. Hours will most likely be from 7 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week.

Finally, in the same project, 951 North High will become home to the Northstar Café some time this fall, which will offer three home-cooked organic meals a day. And again, more outdoor seating comes in the bargain.

So the healing of the gap between downtown and the Short North has begun. The neighborhood continues to creep farther and farther north, and a time when town and gown will flow seamlessly together is clearly visible on the horizon.

As parking arrangements have been worked out for Union Station (valet parking will be available to at least Liu's restaurant and Cup o' Joe/Mojo, best guesses around High Street are that the neighborhood's only going to get busier and busier. So you'd best start thinking about your Mother's and even Father's Day reservations soon╔ Now, if they could only do something about those pesky, darkened arches.


APRIL 2004

Spinelli's Deli satisfies with fast fresh food and smiles

The food business is often a personal one. Though chain restaurants have permeated every layer of the restaurant scale, from fine dining through the breakfast burrito, a meal out seems one of the last products Americans prefer unplasticized. Independents still compete on at least equal terms with the Golden Arches.

Joe Spinelli is a first-class example of that character. Spinelli started out on the chain side of the food business in Victorian Village seven years ago, opening a Manhattan Bagel franchise in the Thurber Village shopping center with partner Bill Ward in 1997.

But over time, Spinelli grew frustrated with the inflexibility of the franchise system. He wanted to insert some personal touches in the menu, but, he says, the corporation's formula didn't really allow for it.

"This neighborhood really thrives on independent businesses, and I was finding it difficult to bring in products that the customers wanted ╔ for example, at lunch, people were asking for salads and we couldn't bring them in," he recalls.

The result of the partner's divorce from the chain, Spinelli's Deli, has become in short order one of the standards in the neighborhood.

As you're standing at the copier around 11:30 am, stomach rumbling, if you think, "I'd like a sandwich," you think of Joe and Bill's place.

Of course, that's because of the fine, fresh food the deli offers - but it's also because of Joe's ebullient personality and his omnipresence among the active in the community. No fund-raiser, festival or even a meeting takes place without him.

Among the organizations and events that have benefited from his time and in-kind donations over the years are the Short North Business Association, Via Colori, Harrison West Society, the Doo Dah Parade, the Victorian Village Society and its Home and Garden Tour, the King Avenue Methodist Church ... the list goes on and on.

Mary Martineau of the Short North Business Association says a typical example of Spinelli's generosity came this summer when he donated food for all 200 artists at the Via Colori festival.

"He fed all of our artists both mornings. He was there basically 20-some hours each day, start to finish. Plus, he was on committee, and will be again this year," she says. "If we ever need a volunteer for anything, it's, 'Yeah, I'll get it done.'"

Rob Pettit, president of the Victorian Village Society, says "He's a really valuable asset for nonprofits like us and an incredible asset for the neighborhood. He's got an amazing outgoing personality - he's not afraid to talk to anyone."

Joe Spinelli and Bill Ward, co-owners of Spinelli's Deli, open for breakfast and lunch in Victorian Village at 767 Neil Avenue in the Thurber Village Shopping Center.

Spinelli's involvement clearly comes from a sincere place. Community activism has been a part of his life since just after his college days at the University of Akron, and was in fact his first adult career.

"I got into drug and alcohol prevention, and doing some AIDs out-reach, talking about safer sex in 1990, 1991 - AIDs was still a hot topic in the gay community," he remembers.

"I really enjoyed that but after a couple years, I went back to school at Capital University for a degree as a social worker. I worked for a few different agencies, but I knew in the back of my heart I was born to be in food."

That's because his childhood was spent in restaurants. His grandfather owned several in Spinelli's native Cleveland. As a youngster, that's where he could always be found, doing everything from shining tabletops to prep work.

Even after his grandfather sold his businesses, Spinelli worked for McDonalds all through high school. But youthful passions are often discounted, and Spinelli moved out of the kitchen and into college and then social work.

He met Bill Ward while in college and the two were fast friends for years. As life as a social worker began to grind Spinelli down, the buddies began to talk about going into business for themselves, and the natural choice was a restaurant.

While both partners work the line just about every day, Ward, once a Key Bank vice president, has more of a behind-the-scenes role. Spinelli is the marketer and develops new menu items.

"His outgoing personality makes him a marketer," Ward says. "He's a ball of fire. He always keeps everybody on their toes and in a good mood.

"And, he has a good feel for what will sell and what won't, a lot of common sense. I wouldn't do this business with anyone else."

So that brings us back to the food. Spinelli describes his priority as quality eats and good fast service.

"I've lived in this neighborhood ever since I have been in Columbus, about 10 years. I knew the neighborhood needed a place to get a good breakfast and lunch quickly."

When it comes to his restaurant, rather than focusing on particular creations or cooking style, Spinelli says his pride and pleasure comes from making customers happy.

He works hard to stay in tune with the market, dreaming up menu items such as the Jalapeño Joe. Spicy is in demand, so say hello to a sandwich piled high with turkey breast, Jalapeño Bacon, Pepper-jack cheese, lettuce, tomato & Chipotle mayonnaise.

All the sandwiches are made with rolls, foccacia or bagels baked fresh in the restaurant every day - a priority for Spinelli, who says, "There is an art to making good bread. I'm always hounding at the deli about quality, freshness, proofing properly – you just get a better sandwich when it's baked on site."

The formula is working out for the deli so far. Business in the restaurant has been up since they left the chain, even with I-670 closed for nine months of that time, and the catering business has taken off.

And best of all, Joe Spinelli continues to give more and more of his greatest gifts to his favorite neighborhood - his quality food, fast service – and himself.

Spinelli's Deli, located at 767 Neil Avenue, is open Monday - Friday from 6 am to 4 pm; Saturday and Sunday from 7 am to 4 pm. Catering services also available. Visit their Web site at www.SpinellisDeli.com or call 614.280-1044

Delivery Service
February 2003

Brrr! Guess the predictions were right - this winter is a heavyweight, at least so far. In general, I would promote eating out as often as possible. But there are some nights when leaving the house is just not an inviting proposition, whether it be for groceries or for gourmet fare.

So in the interest of staying toasty warm, let us explore the topic of dining in. Who, in the Short North, will bring the meal to you? We also asked those who do deliver to tell us something interesting about their business. The options and answers are more varied than you might think.

Did you know that more than half of all restaurant business is take-out or delivery? According to the National Restaurant Association, off-premises (takeout and delivery) traffic accounted for roughly 58 percent of total restaurant traffic in 2001, and that number has been rising.

Add to that the fact that close by the Short North is the mother of all captive dining audiences with few cars and fewer kitchens, the student body at the Ohio State University, and you get a smorgasbord of mobile food choices.

To begin, of course, there's the topic of pizza, the first thing that comes to mind when you're thinking meals on wheels. And Donatos is the first name in pizza in the area. Founded, sold to McDonald's, and bought back again by Buckeye-done-good Jim Grote, there is definitely a Donatos near you. The Short North is served by the First and High location.

Donatos delivers pizzas, oven-baked subs, a large variety of salads and more - even two dessert pizzas. You can check out their Web site (see sidebar) for a full menu, and even order online.

The Web has thrown a new wrinkle in the food service delivery business, that's for sure. It's hard to pin down a percentage of restaurants that offer a Web site, but "lots" would be an accurate guestimate.

Menus online are the most obvious consumer advantage. More and more are also offering the ability to point, click and order. Only a tiny fraction of delivery orders are taken this way as of yet, but the trend is on the rise. For one thing, you can print out proof of what you ordered, so if that pizza comes with anchovies you didn't want, you've got backup!

Back to the pie itself - the independent Pizza Gourmet is another fine option locally. Their unusual selection of pizza includes Chicken BBQ, Broccoli white pizza, Zesty BLT, Reuben, and Shrimp scampi.

But pizza is hardly your only option in the Short North area. Spinelli's Deli in Thurber Village will send their fine fresh sandwiches your way for a minimum order of $10 plus a $5 delivery charge. They're definitely a great lunch option that many local offices take advantage of.

The Arena District's Buca di Beppo also delivers their hearty, rustic Italian fare. Imagine! Pork osso buco, that fabulous chicken cacciatore, gargantuan green salad and garlic bread - and you never have to take your feet out of your pink fuzzy rabbit-ear slippers!

Craving something a little more Eastern? Oh, yes, Lemongrass delivers its Pacific-rim fusion fare for a tiny $1.50 delivery fee. Pad Thai and basil-grilled shrimp are only as far away as your cordless phone.

So is sushi! Haiku delivers for $3. They've got to be the only place you can get a dragon roll (eel & avocado) rolled up to your door, bringing you╔ you've got it╔ eels on wheels.

Asian and Italian aren't the only ethnic choices for delivery. Great news - the Happy Greek is about to start delivering in the early part of February. Baklava in bed! Roasted eggplant, Mousaka by the fire! Why should we ever leave the house?

Deciding to offer delivery service is a tricky business question for a restaurant. Some, like the Happy Greek, start because of customer demand. Co-owner Gihan "Gigi" Zalat says they've had many requests, especially from the downtown business area.

Added expenses are a part of the delivery game. Extra insurance is a must. More employee hours will obviously be incurred. But until deliveries literally get rolling, she has no idea how much their overall business will increase.

Other businesses, like pizza shops or WingsXtreme, live entirely off of deliveries. This specialty shop offers an impressive 25 varieties of buffalo chicken wings, along with burgers, fries, and other pub-type food for take-out or delivery only from its Short Campus location.

For a dine-out only business, getting the food there fast and hot is a must, because their entire reputation rests on what you get when you open that carton. The "hot factor" also limits your delivery radius - and therefore your customer base. So building a successful delivery business means capturing a relatively greater market share in your limited geographic area.

Common sense would say that specializing in one product - say, chicken wings - might be a dangerous business tactic because honestly, how many chicken wings can one population eat?

Apparently, the answer is "lots."

"I'd say it's got to be more than 700 wings per night," says WingsXtreme General Manager Robert Carter. He says the business has been growing steadily since the shop's opening three years ago - so much so that a second location is planned in the Sawmill area, to open late this spring.

Speaking of specialties, let's get down to dessert. I'm not sure I should mention the following business for fear of causing a riot, but here goes: Daniel Cooper of Pure Imagination Chocolatier in the North Market says he will begin delivering downtown on request. That does it for me. I'm dialing up for some Spanakopita, Pan-seafood veggie dumplings, a few dozen wings and a pound of gourmet chocolate and I'm not budging until spring.

BUCA DI BEPPO, 343 N Front, 621-3287, www.bucadibeppo.com
DONATOS, 920 N High, 421-5100, www.donatos.com
HAIKU, 800 N High, 294-8168, www.columbuseats.com/shortnorth/haiku.php
THE HAPPY GREEK, 660 N High, 461-1111, www.HappyGreek.com
LEMONGRASS, 641 N High, 224-1414, www.columbuseats.com/shortnorth/lemongrass.php
PIZZA GOURMET, 976 N High, 445-0310, www.ThePizzaGourmet.com
SPINELLI'S DELI, 767 Neil, Thurber Center, 280-1044, www.SpinellisDeli.com
WINGSXTREME, 1437 N High, 424-9464, www.wingsxtreme.com


This Month: Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat...
December 2003

'Tis the season to gain a few around the middle, that's for sure. And hanging around the Short North isn't making the Battle of the Holiday Bulge any easier, let me tell you. This is of course the busiest season of the year for any food purveyor. Restaurants, pubs, butchers and bakers, all are vying for your attention, dangling the best they have to offer in front of our chilly, festive noses. The sheer density of shops and restaurants offering delights sweet and savory in the Short North is making any trip down High Street a calorie ambush waiting to happen.

For instance, steer clear of the bakeries throughout the Short North if you're trying to shed a few. Simply everyone is breaking out something fabulous for the holidays.

Zeta European Emporium, 751 N High St., has some Greek holiday traditions, including baklava, kourabedes, a Greek almond butter Christmas cookie, and kataifi, a dessert with shredded wheat, nuts and honey.

Eleni Christina, 614 N High St., will be making stollen, with dried apricots, cherries and raisins that have had a good long soak in rum; they'll also have the full complement of Christmas cookies, including gingerbread men - because, says chief baker David Beach, "I like gingerbread men."

Piece of Cake, 772 N High St., really goes to town, with more than a dozen kinds of Christmas cookies, red velvet cakes, chocolate raspberry tarts, and a spectacular Yule Log of chocolate sponge cake and whipped cream filling, decked out to look like the real thing.

At the North Market, Omega Artisan Baking is busy turning out European-style breads and desserts like world-class Challa year-round. For your holiday table they're offering a few desserts that will knock your socks off, like the Sour Cherry Clafouti, a kind of custard in a buttery pastry crust, or cranberry upside down cake.

Then just yards away you'll be brought to a dead halt by Daniel Cooper's shop. I guarantee you won't be able to walk by his Pure Imagination Chocolatier without stopping and staring. Each one is a little piece of art, stenciled with delicate, colorful figures or elegantly decked out with cocoa, caramel, spices, and nuts that boast of the decadence within.

Cooper is as devoted to the taste of his truffles as to their appearance. He eschews vegetable oils in his chocolate, using only pure cocoa butter, which produces the smoothest, creamiest, deepest chocolate flavor imaginable. They're all handmade right there in the North Market daily.

For this season of giving, Cooper has created a stunner - a delicate gift box made entirely of dark chocolate, filled with a selection of his best truffles. If you're on anybody's bad side this holiday season, this is a sure bet to put you back in their good graces - heck, one of these with "To Dubya" on the top might have stopped the second Gulf War.

Some of the goodies inside might include an Egg Nog Truffle, which tastes just like the real thing with the benefit of a lush chocolate skin, or the Winter Wonderland, a mint truffle tattooed with dainty snowflakes.

Pure Imagination also offers what has to be one of the more spectacular hostess gifts of the season: bring by a bottle of champagne, and Cooper can wrap your bubbly in a showy cellophane and dip it in gourmet chocolate for a mere $5.

And don't let the weather stop you from dropping by Jeni's Ice Creams, just across the market. "We've got some flavors that are only around for Christmas, warm flavors that are wonderful to eat in cold weather," says Jeni Britton, proprietor. A couple of those: Dark Cocoa Peppermint Gelato, a deep and dense delight, or Tobleroni, a concoction of Belgian white chocolate, beautifully fragrant honey, and toasty almonds.

Britton says chilly weather doesn't seem to deter the true ice cream lover - she's even shipping ice creams around the country. "There are some ice cream fanatics out there, and you wouldn't believe how fast word travels," says Britton. She's also packing take- out ice cream in dry ice for travel, so to score big points with Grandma stop by before your trip over the river and through the woods.

Right on the same block, Barley's, 467 N. High St., on High Street has tapped their holiday kegs and is now pouring Christmas Ale, a beautifully complex, spiced golden brew with choice imported malts and hops added to natural black locust honey, fresh Chinese white ginger and hand-peeled orange zest. Their winter-only barley wine, a heady brew that's like beer times ten, is another good way to warm you from nose to toes.

Just north on High Street and just in time for the bubbly season, the Burgundy Room, 642 N. High St., now has three champagnes by the glass to their menu - a Paul Roget, a Pierre Peters, and a New Mexican sparkling wine called Gruet. They also feature champagnes by the bottle and have added even more hard-to-find wines to their list of offerings by the glass.

And for those who can't get enough of the grape, Strada World Cuisine, 106 W. Vine St., will offer two holiday-season wine tastings in December. The subject of the first, on December 2nd, is great gift wines under $25; Santa Claus himself will come all the way from the North Pole for the December 16th event, celebrating champagnes and sparkling wines. As always, each wine is accompanied with a menu item like slow-roasted goose breast with boysenberry sauce, or baby lobster tails with toasted pistachio risotto and lavender cream sauce.

"Enough," you might say, "I would gain twenty pounds." Well, it seems to me that the holidays are for making memories, for treating friends and making merry with family. We should all celebrate the fact that we are here together, and are fortunate to live in such a bountiful place and time. Certainly, the one thing you will not remember about this winter years from now is that you gained a little bit around the middle. So go out, get yourself some truffles, some champagne, and sing a few carols to the pleasure of living in such a delightful urban neighborhood, and do your pilates later. Happy holidays!

(you can contact Cindy Bent Findlay at: cindybent@earthlink.net)


Talking Turkeys
November 2003

It is the month of one of America's true native holidays, time to reflect and give thanks - and cook your own meal.It almost seems unpatriotic to dine out or purchase a Thanksgiving dinner rather than slave over the bird on your own.

And even if you would prefer to eat out on turkey day, you don't have many choices. Just about everyone is closed for the holiday. Even chefs have families.

"Typically, it's a very very busy day, if you're open," says L'Antibes' manager Dale Gussett. "But we decided it's family time for employees." That seems to be the consensus among High Street's restaurants - and rightfully so.

But there are a few who buck tradition (and presumably, employee opinion.) For the diehard who refuses to cook, here are your Short North Thanksgiving options: Buca di Beppo, in the Arena District, will be open its regular business hours and feature its full menu plus an as yet undetermined special - call for details.

PDR at the Hampton, with its mandate to feed hotel guests with no place to go, will be open and serving a special Thanksgiving buffet from 1-6 p.m.

Victorian Village's Dragonfly, while closed that night, is accepting orders for carry-out gourmet vegan fare for those who don't believe that Thanksgiving necessarily means you have to eat a turkey.

Several pubs will be open at various times of the day but won't be serving food. And that's about it.

We asked a smattering of local chefs who will be home what they'll have on their own tables on the big day.

Strada's Executive Chef Jonathan Adolph keeps his bird stripped to the basics - simple seasonings, a little butter in the cavity, a little chicken stock in the pan. "I don't stuff the turkey," he says. "I just think it takes too long to cook." And on chestnuts or no chestnuts? "No."

R.J. Snapper Chef Richard Stopper perfers a traditional approach, too. This year he's going with the classic oyster stuffing, pecans and/or walnuts instead of chestnuts, and yes, he stuffs.

"And add lots of butter. Lots and lots of butter," he says. "so it's rich." Stopper adds it to the stuffing and also bastes the bird with reduced-down chicken stock and butter, salt and pepper.

Let's turn our attention from those who prepare food to those who provide the raw materials ╔ in particular, let's talk raw turkey.

For the past nine years, the truly discerning fowl enthusiast in Columbus has turned to North Market Poultry and Game, near the northern edge of the North Market's cornucopia of international offerings.

Annemarie Wong and her partner Jerry Bullock specialize in all fresh, free-range, organically raised chickens, ducks, geese, pheasants and other game, and of course, turkey.

Right about now Wong and Bullock's stand kicks into high gear. Every year, Wong says, they turn out something like 1,500 fresh free-range turkeys, plus a smattering of game birds or geese.

The turkeys come from a farm in New Carlisle, where they are allowed to roam in a pasture eating grass, bugs and anything else a turkey might fancy, rather than being force fed meal which might contain all kinds of animal by-products, even other ground-up turkeys. They are fed no growth hormones or antibiotics.

As a result, the meat is markedly more flavorful than your garden-variety turkey whose diets and wanderlust has been curtailed. In addition, says Wong, the texture is far superior, as the meat has never been frozen or "deep chilled," a fancy industry euphemism for "not frozen that much."

Interestingly, Wong says the turkey cooks in about half the time of a previously frozen supermarket turkey, though she isn't sure why. A table of cooking times and sample recipes are given out with every bird as a guideline.

Fads in turkey preparation, as in anything, come and go. Wong says she hasn't heard of anything out of the ordinary this year, but in years past honey-jalapeno glazes, brining the birds to increase tenderness and flavor, deep-frying the entire turkey Cajun-style, and turduckens have all been in fashion.

Turduckens?

"It's a deboned turkey stuffed with a deboned duck which is stuffed with a deboned chicken - there are three layers of meat and three different kinds of stuffing - it's huge," says Wong. That must have been a banner year for the industry.

And what does Wong prefer on her own Thanksgiving table?

"Red deer from New Zealand," she says with a laugh. "By the time I'm done pushing out 2,000 turkeys, I won't make one!"

Alternatively, Wong says she will go to a friend's house. "The deal is I give them the turkey and they cook it," she says, so if you're looking for a free gourmet bird, now is the time to buddy up to Wong.

Now's also the time to reserve the bird. North Market Poultry and Game starts taking orders on November 1 and should be in by the 14th. The fresh turkey can be picked up Monday through Wednesday of Thanksgiving week. They're keeping the price at $2.29 per pound, the same as last year. It might sound like a premium price, but if you've ever had a fresh bird, you know it's worth it.

(you can contact Cindy Bent Findlay at: cindybent@earthlink.net)

Fall Menus
 
October 2003

The days grow shorter, and when it stops raining, leaves can be seen swirling about. It's almost time to welcome the squash, the pumpkin, the stews and the hearty fare of fall. Here are only a few of the wonderful fall menus to hit the street this month. Some will change their offerings as the weather grows colder, but some have brand new menus for October.

Kent Rigsby (Rigsby's Cuisine Volatile), as always, will debut an innovative new menu in mid-month in keeping with his dedication to what's fresh and good now.

Homemade pasta dishes like ravioli with butternut squash and sage butter, or gnocchi with rabbit ragu alla cacciatore promise to show off Rigsby's talent for creating bright fresh Mediterranean fare that also echoes the tones and tastes of the season.

Strada World Cuisine on Vine has radically changed their menu: 31 of the 35 items offered are new or different this fall.

Strada Chef John Adolf wants an even greater focus on the seasonal, says General Manager Neal Crosson. That includes delights such as oven-roasted duck with a red onion, orange and fennel marinade, served with a side of sweet potato-apple-caramelized shallot-gratin - every bit like a slice of October sun on a plate.

"We've continued with the world cuisine theme," says Crosson, "added more seafood, improved the quality of the steaks, and shaken things up." Most entrees now come with designated sides rather than one-veg-fits-all.

Along with autumn's additions, Crosson says the restaurant has switched its lunch concept, trying to deliver more diverse selections while staying under $10 per item.

L'Antibes is holding off on major menu changes until the holiday season but has a host of seasonal specials. breast of Guinea hen with truffle sauce, for example, will be offered when available. Chilean sea bass with coconut curry sauce and macadamia nuts is another worth calling about. a new dessert, reine de saba cake, a chocolate almond torte with a grand-Marnier tinted ganache topping should stick to your ribs on a chilly October evening.

Barleys will also have a new fall menu on the way - but more importantly, they've got new beer! General Manager Jade Boyd says the famous Christmas Ale, their secret recipe, is back again and it's their best-seller every fall. Also on tap is Barley Wine, an 11 percent alcohol concoction that will knock your socks off, and Ivan Porter, a rich, mellow stout-like brew.

New Along High

There should be quite a few changes in the restaurant scene this month before the leaves are done flying, but at this point, in keeping with the spirit of Halloween, many of them are still a mystery.

Probably the biggest one - or at least, most investigated - is who will occupy the brand new spaces, complete with patio seating, on the Cap perched over I-670? Jack Lucks of Continental Real Estate, which developed the revolutionary retail space, says he doesn't know.

"We're getting a lot of interest, but no one's signed on the bottom line yet," says Lucks. He points out that whatever establishment rents the space will have lots of glass-faced frontage and fantastic exposure city-wide. He says the space is flexible enough that it could hold from zero to 100 percent restaurant tenants, though the goal right now is to create the best possible mix of retail and restaurant.

The story is the same with the Wood Companies' new property at 941 North High. A gallery and the Jazz Arts Group offices will soon make their home there but they're still seeking a restaurant tenant for one corner of the building, which will feature a fine patio for outdoor dining. Mark Wood says the company is talking with several people who have keen interest but won't say who, as no deal has yet been struck.

That building was also to have been the home of Mrs. Wiggins Ice Cream, but sadly, it now seems that it is not to be. Amy Brennick, aka Mrs. Wiggins, could not be reached for comment, but Mark Wood says there was a miscommunication between the two parties on an issue in the lease that could not be resolved. The wailing and gnashing of ice-cream craving teeth will surely be heard all up and down High Street. Don't despair, remember Jeni's Fresh Ice Creams is at the North Market, and guessing by the praises ringing all over the Short North, it's here to stay.

Frezno's Kevin Ames has officially pulled up stakes and moved downtown but building owner Baker Henning says - you guessed it - no one has signed a lease yet on the space. Word on High Street is that two managers of the North Market-area Carlisle Club have plans for the 782 N. High Street restaurant.

John Dornback does have definite plans to open Basi Italia where Pisa Pete used to be, at 811 Highland Street. The former Press Grill chef will offer upscale Italian food as of October 1, according to the Basi answering machine at 294-7383.

September 2003
This Month: staff of life

Get ready to loosen your belt a notch, because this month we're spotlighting local bakeries.

A bakery is essentially a specialty store - an outlet for an artisan's focused expression, a honing of one genre to perfection. By its very nature, the focus of the bakery is gratification of mortal desires - from that visceral craving commanded by the extravagance of chocolate cake to the warm yearning called up by a crusty slice of fresh, warm wheat bread.

One could project that the number and quality of bakeries is a meter of a neighborhood's humanity. By that measure, the Short North could be seen as one of the more profoundly human communities in the county. A handful of enthusiasts with talents for baking everything from crusty rye to a butter-soft chocolate croissant have transformed the Short North into carbohydrate central.

Not that long ago, Wonder Bread was about the only loaf raised in Columbus, but especially along High Street, things have definitely changed.

"Bread in restaurants was terrible in this town. They were serving this dry, flaky, day-old stuff back then. The first break-through was with Rigsby's," says Doral Chenoweth, longtime Columbus Dispatch food columnist. "Like everything else, he broke good bread out of the box."

Along with Rigsby's, there are a couple of other veterans of the loaf in the neighborhood, including Benevolence and Juergen's Bakery, two of the four bakeries now found in the North Market. Juergen's actually creates their famous German kuche, strudel, tortes and breads in their German Village landmark restaurant.

Benevolence, though, has been warming the heart of the North Market since 1985. Proprietors Nancy and Larry Henry set out back then to provide what they didn't see in Columbus - a place to find an old-fashioned loaf of bread or cookie made from pure, nonartificial ingredients.

"There are two pathways to baking," says Nancy Henry. "One is 'food is art,' one is 'food is love.' We're in the food is love category." Henry says she and her husband's urge to start baking sprang from their own family histories. Both of their mothers baked almost religiously - Nancy's immigrant German mother produced rolls, kuchen and scores of cookies, while Larry's Appalachian mother loved traditional American pot pies and fruit desserts.

"For us both, it was about family, intimacy, safety, love, nurturing, all those warm fuzzy family values," she says. "We wanted to give the customers the same feeling we had when we were kids, and our mother put on the table this big pie with raspberries overflowing - realizing people were not getting that on the dinner table any more."

It was also important to the Henrys that all their baked goods be made with only the freshest, preservative-free, organic ingredients. Even the wheat flour comes ultra-fresh from a Western Pennsylvania mill. So just-baked breads overflowing with nuts and dates, chocolate chip cookies still warm from the oven, and the like is what you'll find there.

Omega Artisan Bakery, also in the North Market, also arises from a desire to produce something in Columbus that you couldn't get here before. Amy Lozier, formerly pastry chef at the Elevator, got started in the baking business by trying to replicate the hearty, crusty European breads she found irresistible while visiting her sister in Switzerland years ago.

"This was years ago, and there weren't any books on baking rustic breads out yet," says Lozier. "I was on my own trying to figure it out, and I reinvented the wheel several times!"

Lozier calls herself a "zealot" when it comes to bread. For instance, she advises customers on loaf care when they leave the stand. "To cut the loaf before it's cooled is to ruin it - the structure is not finished until it is completely cooled. It will get flat and chewy."

She's applied her zealotry to a grand variety of breads, from French baguettes to challa to foccaccia. As more equipment arrives Omega will also feature one of Lozier's personal café favorites, butter-pretzel, a twisted pretzel dough with rich Swiss butter inside, as well as ryes. She also bakes desserts, including a zesty lemon pound cake she says "should be called "Ain't Your Grandma's Lemon Cake."

"All my breads have a very long slow cold rise [for flavor]," she says. "I think a lot of people want some flavor in their bread, and most American bread has none. My feeling is that I think that people in Columbus know more about food and care more than ten years ago. We aren't backwoods people."

Eleni Christina baker David Beach echoes those thoughts. When local restaurateur Kent Rigsby was looking for someone to entrust with the baking of his restaurant's city-wide renowned sourdough bread, he chose Beach, who attended culinary school in Minnesota and has baked at local establishments such as Lindey's and Bravo's.

Like the Henrys, Beach's inspiration draws on his past. "I grew up baking. I learned from my grandmother. She always made these rolls, like a milk roll - a sweet dinner roll - and it's still one of the best things I ever had. They were huge, and we'd pull out the center and fill them with jelly. Occasionally I get a craving and we'll do it here."

Eleni Christina, at 614 North High Street, can be hard to catch open. The bakery is dedicated at least as much to producing the bread for a slew of local restaurants including Katzinger's Deli, Flatiron, and the Drexel Café as it is to retail sales. As such her doors are only open Wednesday thru Saturday in the early part of the day (see their listing on page 22 for details.)

But it's worth making a point of going. Rigsby's sourdough, born of the same starter Rigsby's had going since the restaurant started serving, is always available, as is a fantastic multigrain bread with raisins and nuts.

The bakery also features buttercream cakes, cheesecakes, and a few other desserts. And if you're especially lucky, you'll catch Beach in a craving and find a few of those rolls of his grandmother's on the shelf.

If you seek satisfaction for your sweet tooth, A Piece of Cake is surely your place. The little bakery at 772 North High Street celebrated its fifth anniversary of producing mouth-watering delights this summer.

"Our mission has stayed the same - we make lots of cakes and goodies," says co-owner Randy Klinger. He says the hardest thing to keep on the shelves are the pumpkin cookies: "Even during the summer, we go through two or three dozen a day."

Partner and pastry chef Brian Hotopp turns out cakes by the dozen, including wedding cakes, muffins, turtle tarts with caramel and chocolate ganache, and ╔ oh, be still my heart ╔

And soon now, the Short North will welcome a sixth bakery to its lucky, lucky streets as Cristin Austin and Magdiale Wolmark open the doors on V, an all-vegan bakery and express market right next to their Dragonfly restaurant at 147 King Avenue.

Wolmark describes the new venue as a bakery plus - plus a charcuterie, a mini-café, a mini-market where customers can come in for a sandwich served with artisan bread, fresh soups, gourmet take-aways like stuffed smoked tofu.

He describes the organic, vegan genre of the bakery and restaurant as a calling. His goal, he says, is not to try to re-create vegetarian echoes of traditional baking, but to create all new possibilities.

"We've chosen this artistic format for expression, and we're exploring the possibilities of the format," he says. Some of those possibilities: sticky buns in the mornings and hot panini pressed sandwiches at lunch, a chili and a soup of the day, a dark chocolate tart and take-out wine in the evening, and crusty artisan breads all of the time.

In addition, Wolmark has struck up relationships with local organic farmers and will feature the freshest, best in-season produce in small quantities, such as specialty mushrooms or haricorts vert. Eventually he hopes to have the produce of their own chef's garden with heirloom crops, still in the planning stages.

The bakery and market is still under construction, but Wolmark hopes to have an October 1 opening. So Atkins be damned! This fall as the chill descends, take advantage of the local baking scene, and grab a croissant for me.

August 2003
This Month: keep it cool

The dog days of summer approach. As the waves of heat rise from the sidewalks like a mirage, time in a hot kitchen is the last thing we want. So slip on some sandals and head on down to your favorite neighborhood bistro -- doesn't a margarita under a patio awning or a cold brewski in a shady pub sound like just the thing? The following are just a few suggestions for keeping cool on a sweltering August afternoon or evening.

The season is ripe, for example, for a trip to Dragonfly Neo V at 247 King Avenue. Summer is of course prime time for their vegetarian offerings, and Magdiale Wolmark's focus is creativity featuring the freshest and best of what's in season on a week to week basis.

"We've never had anyone with better gazpacho," says Cristin Austin, co-owner and manager. The restaurant offers cold soups daily in the summer of all varieties, all made with organic, locally-grown produce. Austin says the strawberry Thai basil and coconut soup is a must-try.

The Raenwater, says Austin, is one of their most popular virgin cocktails -- lavender infusion, melon, ginger and lemon. And for the adult beverages, try potions like the Berry Mint Mojito -- rum, fresh crushed mint, raw organic sugar and fresh berries -- or the lavender gimlet, a Bombay Sapphire, lime sour and lavender concoction.

If it's only a beverage you're after, ZenCha Tea Salon at 982 North High Street offers a treat. All of their more than 70 varieties of teas can be served iced. If you've ever had a ZenCha Bubble Tea, you will definitely remember it -- and crave one -- when you're out there slaving behind your lawn mower.

"Bubble Teas quite a multicultural drink," says proprietor I-Cheng Huang. "You have your tea, milk and sugar, which is very British, and then tapioca pearl, which is very Asian. You can go straight black or green tea, or choose with any fruit flavor. Right now, we have passion fruit, mango, lychee, honey peach, sweet melon╔ it's very refreshing."

But if you only have a tea, you'll miss out on one of the season's more unique treats, which Huang is calling the Ice Pyramid. It's advertised as a guilt free alternative to ice cream -- shaved ice flavored with pureed fresh fruit like mango or sweet red bean, piled over a flan custard and topped off, if desired (and I did) with sweetened condensed milk. The combination melds together in a perfectly light, cooling sweet flavor burst.

For a stick to your ribs pub experience, check into the long cool haven of the Press Grill. Ron Criswell, manager, says one of the biggest draws this summer has been their own original-style Mojito -- made with the traditional rum, sugar, lime, mint and soda.

"We don't have any secret ingredients," says Criswell, "we've just got the recipe down and we're consistent with it."

Besides that the Grill offers up summer fare like fresh fish specials and a much-recommended buffalo shrimp appetizer. "We're a great neighborhood bar, it's a comfortable place to come in, sit down, have a beer and relax in the air conditioning, and catch up with the other Short North regulars," says Criswell.

And finally - finally! the Short North will have its very own ice cream parlor, complete with soda fountain. Although she is not open yet, we cannot omit a preview of the long-awaited Mrs. Wiggins, soon to open at 941 North High Street.

Amy Brennick has been preparing for this delightful venture her whole life. "I've pretty much always wanted to be an ice cream man," says Brennick. She has prepared for her great adventure by driving an ice cream truck, working in the dining industry (most recently under the tutelage of Liz Lessner at Betty's) and attending the ice cream academy at Penn State's storied dairy, the Creamery.

Mrs. Wiggins, she says, will offer the classic ice cream flavors of long ago - varieties like butter pecan, rum raisin, rocky road and peppermint stick. She also wants to remind the world of grand pleasures like the root beer float.

"When I was deciding what kind of ice cream it was important for me to make, I kept coming back to bringing back your cozy childhood. I want everyone to go back to their four-year-old self," she says.

That's how she came up with the name Mrs. Wiggins. It was a nickname that her uncles used to call her at about that when you really don't mind your chocolate chip ice cream getting all down the front of your shirt.

Mrs. Wiggins will also feature pastries and even warm adult beverages like Café Frangelico thanks to Brennick's limited liquor license, so patrons should not forget to stop by during the cooler months.

Brennick's targeting late to mid-August for an opening, but a few city permits still stand in the way of her final construction. So note to the Building Services Division of the Columbus Development Department: It's summer, it's hot, and we want our ice cream, so let's lighten up and get those permits going!

In other restaurant news, High Street will soon welcome the Happy Greek to 660 North High Street, in Dagwoodz' former spot. Chef Mohamed Hassan, formerly of Taverna Opa, and manager and wife Gihan Zalat will partner with Nicki Chlitas and Khaled Balouz to bring a Mediterranean smorgasbord to life.

Zalat says she and Hassan are just returning from starting a Greek restaurant in New York and luckily for us, wanted to return to be closer to family. They're working with Chlitas and Balouz, who own Fisherman's Wharf in Bexley and the Mad Greek on East Broad Street.

Zalat, who is Egyptian, says the Happy Greek will feature all kinds of Mediterranean fare. "All Greek dishes are Egyptian," says Zalat. "We call it macaroni, they call it something else." Funny, I have a Bulgarian friend who says that all Greek food is Bulgarian. At any rate, wherever Moussaka originally hales from, I'm happy to eat it.

They'll offer more than 25 appetizers, many of which I can't pronounce like tzatsiki and dolmadakia and how do you really spell hummus anyway? Get a grand selection with the Happy Greek Combo, a choice of four, served with pita all the way from Greece.

By the time of this paper's printing, Happy Greek will have had its July 28 opening. For more information, call 463-1111.

June 2003
Out and About: Places in Our Neighborhood to Dine Outside

Get Out: With the almost biblical rain this month, dining outdoors hasn't exactly been on the top of everyone's mind. But the sun is sure to shine eventually (right?) and the heady pleasure of toasting the lilac-scented breeze with a glass of wine cannot be far behind.

But where to find the elusive outdoor table? Ask around and watch people stroke their chins and think.

To be sure, the amount of outside restaurant seating doesn't satisfy the Short North's demand. Finding a sunny spot can get competitive to the point of rudeness. Who hasn't felt the predatory gaze of the unseated on the back of your neck as you consider ordering one more iced tea?

High Street's urban architecture and zoning regulations have hemmed in many of the restaurants and pubs. The dearth of outdoor seating is lamented by restaurateurs even more keenly than by patio-seeking patrons. "Believe me, we would if we could, but we just don't have the room," says Helen Zapol, general manager of the Short North Tavern. Others point out that putting tables outdoors requires an expanded license.

Somehow creating more could make the Short North even more of a city-wide magnet than it already is╔ But there are a more places than you would think to bask in the sun, grab a beer or a coffee, and watch the Hop go by.

Starting close to the bridge over I-670, for instance, there's Brian Boru's Pub (at 647 North High Street), where you can have a Guinness (make sure!) on the patio in Victorian Gate.

At Tapatio's (491 North Park Street), manager Valerie McKee says their customers head outside for the classic summer experience, margaritas on the patio. "It's a homemade recipe, there's no sour mix, there's just fresh lime and that's what makes them so good." McKee recommends trying Tapatio's (voted best in city by several different outlets) the old fashioned way -- on the rocks, with salt, in the sun.

Frezno's Eclectic Kitchen (782 North High) and Haiku (800 North High) both boast fine a dining experience and sizeable patios. At Skully's (1151 North High) you can grab a burger or their signature curly fries and head outside.

But for the most part, zoning and space issues mean that for the most part, you have to go off the beaten path - that is, off of High Street - to sit outdoors and eat.

There are several options only a short and extremely pleasant walk from High Street. They're nestled in the residential neighborhood of Harrison West, surrounded by the rustling of tall trees and the scent of lilac bushes.

Dragonfly (247 King Avenue) and Estrada (234 King) sit across the street from each other just off of Neil Avenue. Dragonfly offers the freshest in organic vegan produce elegantly prepared; Estrada offers a fiesta of Mexican food, Coronas or Dos Equis and again, margaritas under paper lanterns.

Victorian's Midnight Café (at 251 West Fifth Avenue) serves lunch, dinner, and coffee drinks on their sidewalk patio.

Café Corner's brand new deck (at 1105 Pennsylvania Ave.) comes with two perks - crepes and computer access. The cafe has just started offering free wireless internet access for patrons who bring along their laptops and would like a side of Yahoo with their Blueberry Thrill Crepe and Frozen Cappuccino.

If you're energized by the Arena District's party on a vast scale and brick alleyways, Black & BLUE, Gordon Biersch Brewery, the Frog, Bear and Wild Boar Bar and O'Shaughnessy's all have some outdoor seating or standing room. All are part of the Arena's Nationwide/Front Street entertainment zone.

Strada (106 West Vine Street) behind the North Market offers a full and fascinating menu of world cuisine on their spacious covered patio. Just across the street, the Blues Station serves up food and music for the soul - Southern and Cajun cuisine and blues music almost every night - and a patio with umbrella-covered tables, to boot.

Finally, every Saturday morning you can stroll through the farmer's stands outside the North Market itself and find the freshest fruits, vegetables and flowers there are outside of actually growing it yourself.

"And there's always takeout and all the lovely tables in Goodale Park," points out Tavern manager Helen Zapol.

In other dining news, welcome the Burgundy Room to the Short North. The owners of G Michaels in German Village has filled K2U's old space at 641 North High Street with a tapas and wine bar.

Just open since May 15, the Burgundy Room features a tempting menu of nosh foods and almost seventy wines by the glass.

Manager and co-owner Jeffrey Benson says the Short North was an ideal place to launch the concept bar, the only tapas and wine bar in the city right now. "I think this is the best natural neighborhood in the city as far as this business goes. You just don't see this kind of walking traffic anywhere," says Benson.

The Burgundy Room's happy hour runs 3-7 p.m. seven days a week, with $1-off specials on cocktails and beer. Wine flights are another fun - and rare - feature: Patrons can select three different 2 oz. mini-glasses of wine for $10 to sample their way around the menu. Call 464-9463

May 2003
Spring Chicken

It's May, and all over the Short North life springs anew. Tulips poke through the ground, birds' nests appear on doorsills, spring dresses and shorts replace woolen sweaters in shop windows.

And here at the Gazette a new column is born. May is the first issue of A Taste of the Short North, a monthly foray stroll through the dining life/ culinary offerings of the Short North. Each issue we'll explore the trends, doings, comings, and goings of some of the most vital constituents of the neighborhood: the restaurants, pubs, pizza joints and bakeries that exemplify the good taste, pun intended, of the Short North.

What better way to start off than to nod to the new? A few fresh faces have popped up over the past several months. If you haven't taken the opportunity to stop in (and you should, because they're all great additions to the neighborhood), here's a brief introduction.

I-Cheng Huang has made a brave dive into new territory for Columbus, opening ZenCha, the city's very first tea salon, five months ago. Huang has confidence that not only will Columbus learn to love tea but will also love learning about it. Tea to Huang is a time-out, a seeking of Zen, a rebalancing of the soul.

"Tea is a universal experience. Cultures from all over the world have a rich history tied to tea, from British high teas to the Asian tea house."

ZenCha wants to provide the total tea experience. On display on the honey-colored wood panel walls are a stunning collection of museum-quality tea kettles, some modern reinterpretations, some far older than the city of Columbus itself. Fine loose teas, tea sets and accessories are also available. The decor is a balance of East and West, airy, modern, light and elegantly minimal. Patrons aren't crowded together or blasted by loud music; it's a place to feel at ease whether talking with friends or enjoying some solitary reflection.

The empire of coffee, of course, still has its disciples, and they too have a new place to go. Café Corner is a bit off the usual Short North beaten path, but only a few steps, at 1105 Pennsylvania Ave.

The café aims to become your corner crepe shop. The menu features a slew of savory and sweet items, from tuna salad crepe with Swiss cheese and secret mustard and ranch sauce to the General Custard Crepe, stuffed with "a secret pudding sauce and then massacred with whipped cream." There are omelets, fresh donuts from Golden Donuts & Diner, homemade pastries from Milo's Deli, bagels from Spinelli's Deli and a lunch menu of soups and panini sandwiches, plus the full slate of just about all the drinks you can make with a coffee bean.

Café Corner is one of the most inviting spots around, perched on the corner of Third and Pennsylvania. It's a square little building with walls of almost all windows and one corner planed off, creating a welcoming entrance that makes you want to stop in.

Owner Pete Andronis has just installed a brand new deck on this delightful, quiet Harrison West corner that will surely become the neighborhood hangout on fragrant spring evenings to come.

Another relative newcomer to the area is PDR at the Hampton &emdash; a fine dining "boutique-style" restaurant located in the Hyatt Regency on High Street. PDR stands for Private Dining Room - and private it is, with only 13 tables and 44 seats. John D'Adamo, director of food and beverage for the Hyatt, says that the hotel desired an upscale dining choice for guests while creating at the same time a new choice along High for neighborhood diners.

*Private it's also been, up until now. PDR opened with no fanfare back in September. "We opened quietly," says D'Adamo, "because we wanted to make the restaurant represent what we wanted. We've had five months to make sure the menu was tweaked, the service what we wanted it to be, and we've had good success."

Chef Frederick Gayle returns to the Hyatt from a year-long stint at the Ritz-Carlton in his native Jamaica. His menu features continental cuisine such as walnut-grilled jumbo scallops in a sauvignon blanc sauce, or roasted rack of lamb. The wine list is 35-strong, and half are offered as half bottles. Reservations are suggested but not required.

With the change of seasons, as with every new year, almost everyone has new menu items to offer. Dragonfly, Haiku, Rigsby's - all have tempting new dishes either on tap soon or on the table now, featuring what's fresh this season. Asparagus and various fish, for example, appear on menus throughout the neighborhood, such as R.J. Snappers' newest, Sun dried Tomato Pesto Perch. The Short North Tavern has added a few light vegetarian items. Lemongrass Asian Bistro has some enticing new items like Hawaiian Duck, roasted and served in a spicy green chili sauce and coconut milk with pineapple, grape tomatoes and basil. Lemongrass's brand new bar is open and featuring Mai Tai happy hours and other drink specials.

Some menus will change a little. L'Antibes General Manager Dale Gussett for example says he's limited in the changes he can make without creating a furor over missing favorites among his regular customers; they will be adding some seasonal treats like mussels and cucumber with tarragon sauce.

"We changed the menu every quarter for a while, but as time moved on so many regulars would be looking for their favorites - the ostrich in port wine sauce, if I took it off there'd be a fury over that."

Others establishments are offering whole new meals. Betty's will begin serving breakfast. Piece of Cake will feature wrap sandwiches for summer. Rigsby's will welcome back jazz pianist Richard Lopez who will entertain every Wednesday night.

It's difficult to keep up with goings-on at Strada, what with their monthly wine tastings featuring a different global cuisine each session. The perennially explorative Chef John Adolph starts off the month with swine and wine - Strada will be hosting a Hawaiian Pig Roast.

This spring, Adolph will move his regular cooking demonstrations to every third Saturday of the month. For a tentative price of about $25 per person, Adolph walks through the creation of two special dishes. Guests will participate in the cooking, taste each, take home the recipe, and taste wines selected for the dishes as well.
In closing, it's impossible to keep up with everything going on in such a vibrant community, but being hungry a lot of the time, we'll give it our best shot. If you have column idea suggestions or submissions, please send them along to Cindy Bent at cindybent@earthlink.net. Until next month, indulge your good taste and eat out!

E-MAIL cindybent@earthlink.net

Columbus, Ohio