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Pies & Pints…GET SOME!

If you haven’t read many of my past reviews, I’m kind of a pizza junkie and this place doesn’t disappoint- it’s one of the best! Luckily, this place isn’t far from my home. It’s located in the old Worthington Shopping Plaza on High Street, which is coming back to life with a stream of new businesses. The only downside to this is that I doubt pizza will be on my new post-election diet and with the proximity I’m sure I’ll keep coming back. Once you go inside it has a very lively atmosphere; even on a Thursday it was throughly jumping with patrons. Once you start eating the food and enjoying their vast beer collection, you’ll understand why.

They have quite a selection of speciality pizzas but you can also make your own combinations with a laundry list of ingredients. The best part is that the dough for the pizza is made in house daily and comes from a family, New York style, recipe. The crust on this pizza is addictive! They brush it with a garlic infused olive oil and then sprinkle it with kosher salt before adding on their base of a mixture of mozzarella and provolone. So back to that crust, it’s literally so good that I wish they sold baked strips of it to just consume as an appetizer or as a to go item. It’s like eating a good crusty bread that crunches under the weight of your teeth or at the slice of a knife. It’s not a thick crust, but it’s fluffier than a thin crust pizza too. Basically, it’s AMAZING!

Ok, so they had more than crust so I’ll move on… I started off the meal with some of their Char-Grilled Hot Wings. Now they’re not actually spicy at all, but they are still delicious. They have a dry rub on them of cumin with some cilantro, and they have a good smoky flavor and the meat was tasty and moist. To me this would be a great meal in itself if you were looking to eat something healthier than pizza but didn’t just want to eat a salad- who wants to be that guy?!? Anyhow, they’re served with a creamy, house-made Gorgonzola dipping sauce which you’re bound to love. While it has a similar taste to Blue Cheese Dressing that is usually served with hot wings it has a lighter texture, most similar to a tzatziki sauce.

Another great thing about Pies & Pints is their obvious appreciation for Gorgonzola; and as a fellow Gorgonzola lover, I love them for it. The first slice of pizza I tried was their Red Grape Pizza. Now if you’re like me your initial reaction is, “Fruit on pizza? No thanks.” BUT you’d be wrong like me. The grapes were perfectly suited for this pizza with Gorgonzola cheese on top of their standard blend which causes it to not be so pungent for those who dislike it for that reason. If I wasn’t trying to sample as much as possible I would have likely stuck to this pie all night long. This was my favorite by far, and is one of their most popular pies too.

I ordered some samples of their draft beers, of which they have MANY, but got a Golden Belgium named Victory Golden Monkey and Elevator’s Dark Horse. They tasted great with the pizza, and of the waiters/waitresses have a great understanding of all their beers on site. Pies & Pints actually has a beer man, Ryan, for their multiple locations who makes their selections and trains the staff too- so don’t be afraid to ask questions, in fact I recommend it.

Once I had some beer in front of me I was ready to move forward with more pizza. I tried four more speciality pizza slices. The first was their Mushroom Garlic Pie, consisting of :  roasted mushrooms, feta cheese, caramelized onions, fresh roasted garlic and herbs. This was my second piece of pie and my second favorite pizza. Feta cheese is so good on pizza and when mixed with all of these deeply flavorful ingredients it’s PERFECTION. The garlic was never overwhelming and they obviously know a lot about their ingredients what combinations work sublimely together. Next I tried their Classic Pie (Pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, banana peppers and tomato sauce) which for meat lovers is perfect and is understandably a classic pizza. The banana peppers add the perfect amount of heat to meld the flavors of this pie together.

Then there was the Thai Pie. This is definitely a pizza for folks not looking for the classic and looking to mix it up a bit and try something new. This pie has shrimp, toasted coconut, Thai curry sauce, and topped with fresh basil and cilantro. First, I gotta admit that I LOVE toasted coconut, but you don’t really notice it just the hint of sweetness that hits your tongue after you taste and pick up on the curry sauce first. If they added more coconut I think it would just enhance the sweet & savoriness that they’re going for in this pizza. Lastly, was the Chicken Gouda Pie and it was a great way to end my array of pizzas. Anything, especially any pizza, with bacon on it is good bye me…and when the bacon is cooked to mouth watering crisp like this, it’s somehow even better! Besides chicken, gouda and bacon this pizza also has some red onion and a really tasty chipotle crema drizzled on top of it. This pizza has a wonderful balance of grilled chicken cheese and spiciness and I loved it!

Although I could barely breathe I did also take two bites of their Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownie Terrine, which is made in-house. It’s layers of thin chocolate brownie and a crunchy peanut butter filling that is topped with chocolate ganache. It’s incredibly rich, but it’s a wonderful way to end a salty and savory meal.

Would I come back? DEFINITELY. Over and over again? Yes! I would place this on top of my list for a good pizza in Columbus. The pizza here was so good, as served, that I never even had to add crushed red pepper or sprinkle/parmesan cheese- which is unheard of for me. I have to give it two thumbs up and would recommend it to anyone, whether you live in Worthington or not, to try this pizza. If you can stop by for lunch, they sell their pizza by the slice too for a reasonable price. Go GET SOME!

Until Next Time,
Nikki

Pies and Pints on Urbanspoon

Landlocked in CBus, but You’d Never Know After a Trip to Rivage Atlantique

I loved this place from the moment I walked in the door. From the outside it just looks like a small place with tinted windows with not much going on, but this is exactly why you never judge a book by it’s cover.

As soon as you open the door you are struck by the brightness and then the hustle and bustle of the kitchen. People laughing and enjoying themselves can be heard all around; it’s infectious. We were sat immediately in the middle room, there are three total. The more ‘bar scene’ is in the back with good live music on Friday nights, the middle room’s focal point is giant fireplace and the main room is where the large groups tend to be enjoying the views of the kitchen and tasty seafood coming from it.

We started with cocktails, because there is no better way to start a night after a long week and an even busier weekend ahead. Jason stuck to his favorite gin & tonic, and I tried their Atlantique Martini with a delightful combination of vodka and citrus…it was so very yummy!

Martini

From there our wonderful waiter went into the specials, of which caused us to change our plans a little to try their Bottleneck Clams in a white wine sauce. However, we still started with an array of raw oysters so we could sample some different kinds (we really have begun to LOVE raw oysters). That night they had three different kinds on their menu and we each got 2 of each kind:  P.E.I. Malpeque Oyster, Wellfleet Oyster, and Apalachicola Oyster. Turns out they are ALL delicious!

Oysters

From there we moved into our second course, which was both the special of clams but also an order of their Maine Mussels. It was all served with crusty bread. You literally could NOT eat just one, we hoovered them all down. We got to the point of forcing the last few down, but they were so good that you didn’t want to waste even one of them. Also, as good as the oil and probably the best olive tapenade I’ve ever had  was, you couldn’t help but soak up the sauce with the bread and love every soggy bite!

When we sat down we had grande illusions of ordering soup and salad after these mussels and clams too, but the reality was…we ate a TON of really good food already. Now Jason being Jason, still left some room for dessert just because he’s tall and thin and can…so he ordered a slice of their Buckeye Cheesecake. WOW, one bite of this incredibly rich and decadent cheesecake is really all you need to get through a rough day and get your chocolate/peanut butter fix. It was very good, but even Jason couldn’t finish this.

Everything about this place was fantastic. I loved the ambiance, feel and energy of this restaurant. The staff were superb! The food was worth coming back for over and over and over again. We will definitely return, most likely on a Thursday night to capitalize on their weekly Oyster Special. I would give this place three thumbs up, if I had them, but I’ll settle for just the two that I have- TWO THUMBS UP!

Until Next Time,

Nikki

Rivage Atlantique on Urbanspoon

Back to life and food blogging! Boy have I missed it, but with no time to write and plenty of places to eat and photos of food backed up…I’m sure you’ll start to hear from me again much more regularly. So, off we go!

Coming here for brunch was my first trip to J. Liu. The Worthington location is very close to where I live, so after seeing it a few times I looked into what they’re ‘known for’ or type of food they do. After some mixed reviews on their Asian inspired menu, but hearing they had a brunch buffet that included some traditional items too- I knew I had to at least try it out on a weekend morning. I wasn’t exactly sure of what to expect besides a buffet, some type of breakfast-y foods and of course a Mimosa…which is really all I needed to hear to make it on my wish list!

It didn’t disappoint, but it didn’t amaze me either. They have a few tables outside (which I always love if the weather is decent at all), so we got to sit out on the patio. A good location, because it is right by the bar area where the buffet is served. The key here is that besides having a lot of good classic items they also had some good American style Chinese food here too. I tried a plate of staples like crispy bacon, home fries, waffle and eggs benedict but also mixed it up with some crispy crab rangoons. Everything on my plate was phenomenal except for the home fries, which were a little too soft and flavorless for my taste. However, nothing tastes better to me than some nicely crisped bacon, so they kind of had me weak in the knees from the get-go of approaching the food buffet with my plate.

Jason basically tried everything! He had a couple of plates and tried, among other things, some lobster buttered white fish, crispy chicken and broccoli and lo mein noodles. While the white fish didn’t actually taste like anything special, the rest of the food was really delicious. Especially, for it being a buffet which you just assume food quality will go down with big food quantity, but at J. Liu that is not the case. The poached egg used on my egg benedict was cooked to perfection.

Additionally, they have a dessert table too! Since both Jason and I have a big sweet tooth, this is something we could not pass up. In fact, I specifically left room just for dessert. The nice thing about the dessert selection was that they were small and even bite size pieces. This is great because it allows the customer (me or you) to have as much variety as they desired for one full serving. Again, we tried a bit of EVERYTHING- which is why buffets are so wonderful! So we tried J. Liu’s chocolate covered strawberries, caramel apple pie bites, a white chocolate and raspberry cheesecake squares, five layer bars, a mocha cheesecake square and lemon bars. Everything was scrumptious, very flavorful, the cheesecakes were creamy, the chocolates were perfection and the lemon was the right amount of tart. I’m always a sucker for chocolate covered strawberries and Jason couldn’t stop with the white chocolate & raspberry cheesecakes (although the boy does LOVE both raspberries and cheesecake so neither of us were surprised). So my recommendation is to definitely save room for a cup of coffee and dessert.

For $17 a person I would recommend that if you can splurge a little on breakfast then everyone should at least try it and see what you think. Due to the location, I’m sure that I will go back. However, if I lived elsewhere in Central Ohio it’s likely that I could easily find a cheaper and even more delicious weekend breakfast favorite. I give J. Liu’s Brunch a one thumb up!

Until next time,

Nikki

J Liu Restaurant & Bar of Worthington on Urbanspoon

Summer Cookin’ for Summer Lovin’

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It’s been way TOOOOO long since my last post, but two weeks with a stomach flu and three weeks out on the road for work will do that to you. Back home now and summer veggies are available, which means I’ll be making more meals at home!! This dish is something I started making a couple years ago and just really love the crisp pancetta with the sweet little tomatoes and the freshness of lemon zest all mixed in with some pasta. It’s easy to make, approx. 5 to 10 minutes in prep and about 15 minutes cooking & is enough food for 3 to 4 people!

Ingredients:

1/2 box of Cavatappi Pasta (or whatever your favorite pasta is)
1 & 1/2 Tablespoons of Kosher Salt
1/4 lb. Pancetta, Cubed or Chunked
10 Baby Portabella Caps, Diced
10 Grape Tomatoes, Halved
1/2 Tablespoon of Black Pepper
1 Lemon- 1/2 for Zest & Whole for Juice
1/2 Tablespoon of Crushed Red Pepper (add less for less heat)
2-4 Tablespoons of Olive Oil
4 Leaves of Fresh Basil, Julienned
Pecorino Romano Cheese, Grated (as much as desired)

Step 1- Get the Prep Work Out of the Way

Get your water boiling on the stove for the pasta. If your meat didn’t come cubed or chunked, cube the 1/4 lb. of pancetta. Start warming up your medium sized skillet on medium high heat to get it toasty to crisp up the pancetta. Dice up your mushroom caps and halve the grape tomatoes (bigger than a cherry tomato but smaller than a plum tomato). I even like to dust my tomatoes with salt & pepper at this point (1/4 Tablespoon of each) to get some of the water out of them and make sure they’re seasoned correctly before appearing on a plate. Cut your lemon in half to easily juice the whole thing by squeezing them directly into the pasta & zest one half of the lemon. I like to fresh grate the cheese over top of the cooked pasta right before serving…

Step 2: Cooking the Pasta & Crisping the Meat

Add your pasta (I like to use fun pastas to make it easier to get a little bit of everything into every bite, but feel free to choose any pasta that you like) to the boiling water and your cubed pancetta to the hot pan. Salt your pasta water, 1 Tablespoon, now & let them cook.

Step 3: Add Mushrooms, Lemon Zest and Crushed Red Pepper

As the pancetta starts to brown and crisp be sure to do your best to then brown the other side of them. Once one side is browned add your diced mushrooms and allow them to brown as well. Once the mushrooms have started to brown, add the zest of the 1/2 of a lemon and 1/2 tablespoon of crushed red pepper (unless you desire less) and mix together in the skillet…

Step 4:  Drain the Cooked Pasta and Drizzle with Olive Oil

While your other ingredients are browning, go ahead and remove the pasta from the heat once it hits al dente (usually, at about 3-4 minutes when pasta is fresh and 8-10 when not).  Next, drain the pasta water from the cooked pasta. Once off heat and drained, drizzle your pasta with olive oil (approx. 2 Tablespoons), this should prevent the pasta from sticking to each other while you finish up the second part of the dish.

Step 5:  Add the Tomatoes and Pasta to the Crispy Pancetta & Mushroom Mix

Once the pancetta has reached crispness (not burntness) go ahead and add the seasoned tomato halves to the skillet and stir. After a minute or so of stirring go ahead and add the cooked pasta to the skillet. Add remaining salt, pepper and olive oil to taste. Toss it (or mix it, if you prefer) all together!

Step 6:  Plate It and Dress It Up!

Once all the ingredients have been equally distributed throughout the dish, go ahead and plate them. I like to then dust the dish with some of the fresh basil and finally top it all off with some freshly grated pecorino cheese (as much as desired). Now it’s ready to serve & EAT!

Element Pizza: Every Component is Exquisite

I have to say that I wish I would have tried this place sooner. From the pictures that I had seen and write ups that I had read, I knew this place was a must try. With all of that said, I still had no idea that I would like it this much. Probably the best crust on a pizza that I have ever had. While they do try to make everything in-house with Ohio ingredients they do splurge on one key ingredient- special blend of flour from Italy…but they do purchase it from Columbus’ own Carfagna’s. The flour is needed for this superior crust- a crunchy outer coating around a soft & spongy interior.This dough is made fresh daily for their pies.

The ingredients atop the crust can be either of your own creation of combinations or you can pick from one of their thoughtfully put together 14 selections. The two that we ordered were their Americano pizza and their Arugula pizza. Of the two, it was the Americano that we enjoyed devouring the most. The amazing local pepperoni (that’s right, from right here in Columbus) to the fresh mozzarella and homemade tomato sauce; and then it is all dusted with some crushed red pepper. It’s the perfect amount of spice and DEFINITELY delicious. The second pizza, the Arugula, we both enjoyed. However, where Jason could have used less Arugula I tend to like my bacon more CRISPY (even a little burnt is fine by me)- but it was still a tasty spring pizza.

I got so excited to talk about the dough, that I skipped the beginning of our meal. We did start out with some great draft beers in mason jars and with an appetizer. If you come to Element’s and you like calamari then please do not leave without trying their Semolina Crusted Calamari. The calamari is superbly cooked and seasoned & they also serve it with an oil based sauce for dipping and some of their homemade marinara sauce. Personally, I couldn’t decide on which dipping sauce I liked more but Jason though the oil was the ultimate pairing.

Whether you drop by for lunch to grab one of their paninis or salads or decide to make a dinner out of Element Pizza you can not go wrong. The prices are very cheap, but the quality is a godsend. Also, if you live close by they will deliver to you if they aren’t too busy so call ahead and make a plan for some Element Pizza. I give this downtown Columbus restaurant TWO THUMBS UP!

Until Next Time,
Nikki

Element Pizza Bar on Urbanspoon

Pita House – A Lunchtime Favorite of Mine

For a pasty girl of Danish & German decent, I crave Mediterranean food as though it is in my blood. Sometimes I get my fix at dinner, but most often it is at lunch time that I go out and track down what I’m jonesin’ for. For working where I do there are a couple of places that I commonly go for my fix – Firdous Express (Short North), Mad Greek (Whitehall) or the Pita House (Bexley). Of these places you are most likely to find me in Pita House. The price is right, the service is great and the food is delicious.

Now I have been here A LOT and when I say A LOT, I mean A LOT. The guys behind the counter are always very gracious & helpful; and always laugh whenever I order my usual Chicken Shawarma Platter. The platter comes with hummus, pita, chicken shawarma and your choice of two additional sides – and my usual consists of Jerusalem ‘salad’ and the cauliflower ‘salad’ sides. There are many things on the menu that I have tried and all of which are tasty to me, but this is my favorite and I like to tell myself that it is healthy since it’s chicken and not red meat… What? There is SOME truth to that! Anyhow, I have tried and would recommend any of the following, but not limited to:  Baba Ghanouj, Hummus, Jerusalem Salad, Eggplant, Coleslaw, Falafel, Gyros, Chicken Shawarma, Turkey Shawarma, Chicken Kabab, and/or the Lamb Kabab.

On this particular day I ordered the usual along with an order of falafel. (What? It may be fried, but it’s made of chickpeas & fava beans so it must be healthy too! :) ) Let’s start with the falafel. It’s wonderfully crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle; and when dipped in the yogurt sauce that they give you they taste a little creamier, but without losing it’s lightness. Definitely in my top 3, only being surpassed by the Happy Greek (2nd) and My Big Fat Greek Kuzina (1st). So if you are on the hunt for a good falafel and not in the Short North or Upper Arlington, then I definitely recommend you stop by this place.

Then there is the chicken shawarma platter…ohhhh the chicken shawarma! Where to start? The chicken is perfectly seasoned, thin cuts of grilled chicken. I could, if necessary, just eat a helping of this without anything else – it’s just that good. The Pita House also makes an incredibly delicious garlic paste that I slather on when scooping up the chicken in the pita, the paste was mentioned in a previous post of mine on the Taverna (LINK). The hummus here is top-notch, deliciously rich & a smooth texture; and it is always topped with a couple garbanzo beans & fresh parsley. Then there is the Jerusalem salad, which I do not know exactly how they make this so damn good, but it is. Simple ingredients of cucumbers, tomatoes, and red onion make up this dish. The cauliflower side is another non-complex salad that mixes well together and pairs well with the other items on the platter. It consists of cauliflower, peppers, onions, olives, mushrooms and a touch of olive oil.

This is a great meal for any lunch or dinner, as is everything on the Pita House’s menu. So stop on by Bexley to give it a try. I give this spot TWO THUMBS UP!

Until Next Time,
Nikki

Pita House on Urbanspoon

Explorer’s Club: A Brunch Adventure WELL Worth the Trip!

I have always been a big fan of breakfast. In fact, I think it’s a family thing, as I can remember my mom making a BIG breakfast for dinner some nights. My love for it only grew once I became of legal drinking age – mimosas, bellinis, bloody marys, spiked coffee…YUM!

Anyhow, as much as I love to daydream of fruity alcohol concoctions sometimes…back to the food! When it comes to breakfast it is the Explorer’s Club that I have CRAVED over the past couple of months, and more specifically it is their Cuban french toast w/fresh fruit that I really cannot stop thinking about (you know it must be love then). It’s a dish of these amazingly sweet and a little, crunchy french toast cubes, dusted with powered sugar and topped off with fresh fruit – pineapple, banana, strawberries and melon. This is the best way to spend a late morning on a weekend. Especially when you order a side of their bacon, a coffee, a water and any drink with some alcohol in it. Add in someone to spend the morning with for a good hour and a half or more to slowly drink, talk and eat your way to enjoyment. I’m not going to lie, these tasty, little bits kind of remind me of Burger King’s french toast sticks that I couldn’t get enough of as a kid. Now, for those of you who just read what I typed and are turned off – DON’T BE!!

You will not regret this or any other breakfast item you select here at Explorer’s Club. They really specialize in good Latin flavors with their dishes and while you can pick the fiery burritos or chilequiles dishes…I’d also recommend this special they have: eggs in verde sauce & mozzarella. Jason ordered this amazing dish, it comes with toast and breakfast potatoes, with some of their house made hot sauce (fire breathing hot) and one of their BIG Cinnamon Rolls (SOOO good, even the next morning with all of the sweet icing and a little spice with all that cinnamon) and he LOVED every bite of his breakfast too.

But maybe brunch isn’t your thing, then Explorer’s Club is still your place. Their dinner is an experience too with amazing Latin flavors and even plenty for the vegetarians or vegans in your group (a.k.a. DORSEY). We started out with drinks and I tried one of their Strawberry Love Margaritas, which was refreshing and addicting! We opted to start with an appetizer even though we knew it may not have left us any room for dessert after our dinners… But who could resist nachos with black beans, jack cheese and their own chiptole sauce. (The perfect amount of spicy. They use this in a lot of their brunch, lunch and dinner meals and after one bite you’ll know why!) From there I got their Half Roasted Chicken with brown rice, jalapeno slaw and a side of plantains. As you’ll notice from the picture below, as soon as it landed on the table I had to try the chicken and didn’t make it to a photo first. The skin on the chicken is perfectly crispy and the meat inside is tender and juicy. Everything about this dish and trip to the Explorer’s Club was divine.

I give the Explorer’s Club, located in the Merion Village area of Columbus, TWO THUMBS up for brunch and another TWO THUMBS up for dinner. The location may not be ideal for all diners, but come on out and get adventurous. As Lucas in Empire Records said, ‘I do not regret the things that I have done, but those I did not do.’

Until Next Time,
Nikki


Explorers Club on Urbanspoon

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