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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

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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

Harvest Pizzeria: The Way Pizza Should Be!

I cannot say enough good things about this place. From their ingredients, to how they get them, and then what they create with them. I have yet to enjoy their patio, but that day is rapidly approaching…

The interior consists of a lot of neutral colors, natural lighting from windows, and a lot of wood – all things I am a big fan of! There isn’t a ton of seating, so get there fast, but business wise it was a smart decision on their part to start small & build up a clientele before expanding to a large place. Anyhow, the ingredients are fresh and a wide variety of Ohio grown products to choose from. The pizza creations are baked in a wood-burning oven in the small kitchen – which you can see right into and watch them go to town on the dough. I could go on and on about wood-burning ovens, but I’ll digress…I just wish I had one of my own at home!

Like Yellow Brick, the menu has a few specialty pizzas for you to pick from or they also allow you to create your own. On this day Jason & I split a pepperoni, tomato sauce, mozzarella & provolone mix of cheese, jalapenos and mushroom pizza. DE-LI-CIOUS! If you aren’t starving when you get there, you will be as you sit down and smell the pizzas cooking. Now we did not get any appetizers while we were there but from the choices they have on the menu and the smiles on people’s faces sitting around us, as they ate them – it would be well WORTH IT to try them next time.

With that said, it was a strategic plan to not order apps so as to save room for dessert. And eat dessert we did. They have the BEST BLUEBERRY PIE I have EVER had (and for those of you who know me, you know just how much I LOVE ALL things BLUEBERRY!) and with ice cream on the side…it was the perfect end to a perfect meal. Seriously though, you should try the pie. Apparently, the owner’s mother makes them all herself. TWO THUMBS UP to yet another fantastic German Village restaurant!!

Until Next Time!

Nikki

Harvest Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

YELLOW BRICK Will Take You to THE Wizard of Pizza

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Lately, I feel as though I have really picked up my love for pizza again and ran with it. Luckily, it keeps me coming back to Yellow Brick – along with my new friend Abbey! 🙂 I really feel that it could be her true love for the food that has triggered me back into seeking good pizza in Columbus. THANK YOU ABBEY for bringing me back to pizza AND for showing me the light via. Yellow Brick.

First, I love that Yellow Brick is located in Olde Towne East, it’s so close to work that I could walk here and such a treasure to top it off. You walk inside the place and you’re glad that someone knows how to properly utilize all of their window fronts. It also has gorgeous exposed brick, a bar that extends the length of the restaurant and plenty of seating. Next you will be delighted, if you are like me, at the first menu they hand you – pages & pages, upon pages of craft beers from around the U.S. on draft or bottled. However, if you are like Abbey and love a good Coke from Mexico, you’ll be set here too.

The menu allows you to select one of their artisan pizza favorites or get creative and design your own. I like using classic ingredients to design my own. So I ordered a small cheese pizza with their Rhode Island sauce (a classic tomato pizza sauce with tasty olive oil drizzled in – can’t go wrong here with this sauce), pepperoni, green olives and then topped with shaved Parmesan cheese. Now Abbey loves feta cheese on her pizza from Yellow Brick, so she gets the small cheese pizza, the Rhode Island sauce (her favorite, which I copied off of) and then topped off with feta.

Everything is so good that before you are even aware you have hoovered down half of your piping hot pizza. I’ve only been twice, in March, but I’m sure that I will be one of their regulars in no time! This definitely gets TWO THUMBS UP!!

Until Next Time,

Nikki

Yellow Brick Pizza on Urbanspoon