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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

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

Sidebar 122 is Like Hotel Dining…

All the techniques are right, the plated food looks fabulous, but when it comes to taste it doesn’t blow your mind or seem very original either. To be fair, it is hotel food @ it’s BEST!

The experience wasn’t too great from the moment we told them we had reservations. Being the conscientious diners that we are, Jason booked us reservations at Sidebar 122 through Open Table (a service we use often) and did have a special request for a window seat – we are both fans of people watching and natural lighting. This apparently annoyed the host, who told us when we got there that he felt that this was like paint telling Picasso what color it is and where to put it on his painting…dramatic to say the least!

So after the very warm welcoming, the nice hostess took us to our table, by a window. Our waitress seemed a little scattered but was dear and very helpful to us as new diners at the restaurant. To start, they bring everyone a delicious serving of hummus and fried pita (and you all know by now how much I love hummus). This was by far the best thing that I ate here and it was damn good.

Next we ordered cocktails – me a Jack & Ginger and Jason got a Negroni. He thought his was a bit strong, but wasn’t complaining. I thought my drink was a little watered down (possibly because our waitress apparently forgot to come back to ask me if I wanted ginger ale or their ginger syrup, which they didn’t recommend, in my drink – so who knows how long those ice cubes sat in that whiskey) and the ale had no fizz to it.

For dinner, I ordered the Roasted Beet & Blue Cheese Salad and the Grilled Beef Tenderloin Skewers (although there is only 1); and Jason got the House Salad and the Pork Filet Mignon. He found his salad to be good and better than expected when he wasn’t sure what a pecan dressing would taste like. I thought the beets were delightful in the salad, but the salad didn’t need to be so bathed in heavy Blue Cheese dressing…even though I do LOVE blue cheese. Jason’s Pork Filet Mignon, which was served with mixed veggies, purple cabbage and mashed potatoes, he found to be good but not amazing…however, good enough to eat all of it before offering me a taste…  The Grilled Beef Tenderloin was served with a Parmesan risotto and mixed veggies. I actually really liked the skewered meat – very tender and the melted blue cheese on it was tasty. As for the sides, I could live without.


At the end of the meal we decided to skip dessert here and high-tail it over to Jeni’s for some real original flavor. (Man, I’m glad that the German Village location opened back up last Friday!) Is the food bad at Sidebar 122? No. But is it original, competitive or even well representative of the cuisine that C-BUS has to offer? The answer to that question is NO as well. I will say, however, that I do plan on going back sometime just to sit and drink at the bar…word on the street is that they give you BACON instead of peanuts to snack on! Just like at a hotel that I am staying at when traveling – I’d rather grab some drinks there than eat there, any day of the week.

Until Next Time,

Nikki
Sidebar 122 on Urbanspoon

CURE!

The name says it all. It’s incredible and refreshing to find a place where high quality ingredients are either bought locally or even made at the establishment…that’s right, they CURE their own meats. I do not have enough tantalizing words in my vocabulary to do this place justice, but I will try. In the end the pictures will save me some, but you will truly never know unless you go and experience it for yourself!

Jason and I went to see our brothers, both live in Pittsburgh, for a weekend and that is where we discovered this place. With my bro being a chef and having lived in P-burgh for the past nine years, we left it up to him to pick a spot for us to dine at AND boy, oh boy I am glad that we did. To start with this place is in a renovated, old building. The amount of natural light and wood mixed with steel makes the place look fresh, modern and super clean. The staff are amazingly inviting, with no pompous, hipster attitudes like the neighborhood might suggest. To top it off this place is also BYOB – which is crazy for Ohio but apparently more common in PA. So my brother brought us a selection of some of his favorite craft beers and the Sam Adam’s Infinium. It was great to get to drink alcohol at a reasonable rate, which never happens at a nice restaurant.


My brother’s recommendation was that if you can swing it ($60 a person) go for the chef’s tasting! So we all did and it rocked all of our worlds… It was five courses of HEAVEN & enough amazing meat that it should have been enough to last me until the next time I go. Here’s the breakdown:

Course 1: A platter of meats and sides… Whipped Pork Fat on crostinis (BETTER than BUTTER), 3 types of terrines- head cheese, duck and beef, duck spec (who knew, but it was delicious), salami with fennel (addicting), whole seed mustard, Cornish pickles (that tasted like snapping into a Salt & Vinegar chip – YUMM-O!), with pickled onions & beets.

Course 2: Smoked mackerel with goat cheese & chives dip, beet puree dip, Dijon sauce, watercress and beet & olive tapenade sprinkled over top…AMAZING!

Course 3: Cilantro mousse with pickled, crispy onions in the center and then swirled around it was a carmelized shallot puree and then poured over top (in front of you) was THE most savory creamed mushroom soup I have ever had. I could have eaten three bowls of this it was so wonderful and I’m sure that when cold weather hits again, I’ll be craving it!

Course 4: Gnocchi that was topped with pork belly pancetta & it’s juices and then a few shavings of fresh pecorino romano cheese. I’m not a pork belly fan, but even I liked this & gnocchi has been a long-standing weakness of mine since I discovered it in an amazing dish at Alberini’s in Niles, OH.

Course 5:  Two types of sausage – blood & vino en blanc, served with leeks, a zing-y mustard sauce and a date that was dehydrated and then re-hydrated with the juice of the sausages.

After all this food it was likely that I would explode or die from meat sweats, but I didn’t regret even one bite and have been craving it ever since. Literally, just talking about it or typing this right now makes me salivate for it. So needless to say this gets TWO THUMBS UP!! If you are ever in the Strip District or East Liberty area of Pittsburgh please, PLEASE do not pass up this opportunity…they take reservations!

Until Next Time,

Nikki

Cure on Urbanspoon

Easton is no Eden, but I do LOVE Cafe Istanbul!

One of the GREAT things about starting this food blog is that it offers me a wonderful excuse to revisit all of my favorite places. Why not go to the places I love & eat all of my favorite meals, snacks and/or desserts that have brought my taste buds and tummy such joy?!? A recent trip took me back to Cafe Istanbul in the Easton shopping complex in Columbus & it is, believed by me, to be the best restaurant in there.

After all the chaos of trying to even get to Easton, yet alone park, it is always a delight to just step into this restaurant it’s like stepping into another world & always brings me such elation. You’ll find areas that almost act like little seating cubbies vs. separate rooms, off to the sides of the main seating area. The tables look bistro style, they have the most spectacular chandelier hanging in the main hall, and fantastic Turkish decor displayed throughout. But while I love the atmosphere @ Cafe Istanbul, it’s the staff and especially the food that keeps me coming back for more.

The moment that you sit down you will be served the most amazing Turkish bread, called pide, and a dipping sauce, is kind of like tomato & spice mixed with oil, that will knock your socks off (not because it’s spicy, it’s actually kind of sweet & savory at the same time…but the taste is phenomenal). Once this hits the table I find it hard to stop eating it until it’s ALL gone and if even one other person is with me for a meal here, then we will certainly need second helpings of both. With that said, the pide also disappears quickly because I always order hummus here and enjoy soaking it up with the bread.

Traditionally, I always get the chicken kebab for my entrée, but on this day I decided to mix it up a little and try the Kebab Combination. With the kebab combo you get to pick two kebabs from the menu and get a half portion of each, so I chose the chicken and dÖner kebabs. The dÖner is like gyro meat, hand-carved marinated lamb and beef that is grilled on a large, vertical rotisserie. The chicken was good, as it always is – NEVER over-cooked, just juicy and delicious. Now the dÖner was even more AMAZING. The marinade they used was incredible and every bite of this meat combo was more flavorful than the last. I will never pass up the chance for more dÖner at Cafe Istanbul again. The kebabs also come with rice and grilled veggies; and there is enough food for two people (if you are interested in sharing or taking some home for another meal).

I will definitely be coming back to Cafe Istanbul many more times –  I promise you that you will not regret doing the same thing. I give Cafe Istanbul TWO thumbs up!

Until next time,

Nikki

Café Istanbul on Urbanspoon

The expression is ‘cook with love’, not ‘bake with anger’… The Angry Baker misses the mark!

I believe the expression is to ‘cook with love’, but there is nothing about baking with anger and I can only think that this is why…the results are NOT good. This is a new kind of post for me, a post of disapproval.

My father instilled in me a loyalty to small business or mom & pop spots and I have carried that with me as I moved out on my own. I think I pay a lot of attention to where I’m purchasing from, what I’m purchasing and making sure that I’m not supporting places that do not share my values. (It’s why you’ll never hear me saying I wish I could shop at Walmart or that I miss shopping at Whole Foods, Target or Best Buy- cheaper doesn’t mean better and there is always a cost to another for that couple bucks you are saving.) I try not to eat at large chain restaurants (I did say try, NOT that I NEVER do…) and I really love the work that Ohio Proud (www.ohioproud.org) is doing so that I can support Ohioans like myself and small businesses as much as possible. So it is with a heavy heart that I blog about one such place that just does not seem to have it together and whose staff do not seem to care.

My first trip there was to pick up some sweets after lunch for later that day. Not knowing what their menu/specialty really was yet, I figured that a safe bet would be that they have baked goods @ a spot called Angry Baker. However, after my experience there, I learned that there is no such thing as a safe bet. Don’t get me wrong, they did actually have baked goods- what they didn’t have was good baked goods. Whenever I go to new locations I like to ask the staff what they recommend or what they sell the most of and at this visit I was pointed in the direction of their Dr. Pepper cake. If this is their specialty then there really isn’t anything special here…

Now with all of that said, I did WANT to like it. Hell, I even wanted to LOVE it! So I decided to give it a second chance, I don’t believe in the screw up once & you’re out rule for small businesses. This time, now knowing that they serve breakfast and lunch items, I decided to grab some lunch from here for the road. Their lunch menu is written on a chalk board & the turkey sandwich (w/mustard, lettuce, tomato & swiss) sounded perfect. You did get to pick a choice of soup, salad or chips and I went with the Zesty Jalapeno chips. I ordered & found it interesting that the sandwich artisan when asked to make the sandwich moved closer to the chalk board & stared at it and then looked at me as if he was unaware that was an option and made a face as if I was troubling him by ordering. After AWHILE, I got the sandwich from the lady who took my order- with no smile, ‘thanks for coming’, ‘have a nice day’ or even a ‘come again!’

But that’s neither here nor there on a food blog, the food is the actual important part. The sandwich did have delicious tomatoes on it and the bread was fantastic as well, but from there it all went downhill… Sadly, the bread slices were thicker than the whole rest of the sandwich, there was barely any turkey or cheese but there was a good inch of whole grain mustard on it (enough for a good 10 sandwiches at least & nearly impossible to scrape enough off- and I really like mustard too).

For eight dollars I expect a little more. Especially when you have Black Creek Bistro down the street or such sandwich options in the city as Brown Bag or Danny’s Deli… So today I give my first two thumbs down, but with the hope to one day write that I was wrong and that there is a reason to stop by and patronage the Angry Baker.

Until next time,

Nikki

The Angry Baker on Urbanspoon

Tasty Middle Eastern Food in Woodley Park

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As I often do when I travel to cities outside of Ohio (or even to help cure my indecisiveness on picking a location in town), I like to play around with Urbanspoon to help me find a tasty location. I find that when I’m out-of-town I enjoy finding a couple spots close to where I’m staying, site-seeing and city must-goes through Urbanspoon and internet research and then deciding as my hunger hits as to where to go vs. creating any kind of an itinerary, which my anal/love for planning natural inclination would normally cause me to do.

While we were staying in the Woodley Park neighborhood a few weeks ago in DC, I found  a restaurant across the street from my hotel through Urbanspoon called Lebanese Taverna. It was ranked at 88%, reasonably priced, and served Middle Eastern cuisine (my favorite)…so I knew I’d end up there one day. Finally, on the last day we made this our choice for an early dinner. We also did my new favorite thing of not ordering two entrees, but doing an appetizer & entrée combo (or even just ordering multiple appetizers) and sharing everything. I love to sample and this helps me avoid over eating by way of trying everything.

Today we were both in the mood for a good cocktail, which we often are, but when out-of-town I find it a MUST. So I ordered the pomegranate martini and Jason ordered the raspberry mojito. Now, Jason felt the mint in his mojito to be too overwhelming, but mine was perfectly DELICIOUS! To fulfill my need to regularly consume yummy hommos, I ordered the ‘Trio of Hommos’. It was a lot and it was mouth-watering good! It included:  a traditional hommos that was topped w/ a mixture of ground beef & lamb, a garlic hommos w/ chicken shawarma on top of it, a spicy hommos w/ diced tomatoes & feta sprinkled on top; and was served with both white and wheat pita & fresh veggies. Jason ordered the chicken shawarma entrée, which came with the most amazing rice, tahini sauce and garlic puree.

The hommos trio was so damn good that even Jason couldn’t stop himself from eating it…although, since he’s a man I believe he’s prone to like anything that has meat on top of it or is spicy! It was so creamy and each hommos was paired flawlessly with the appropriate toppings. The chicken shawarma was only okay (still think that somehow the Pita House on Broad Street in Columbus has the best chicken shawarma & garlic puree that I have ever tried), but the rice was fabulous. It was cooked to perfection and had to be simmered in some stock for that kind of flavor.

I can not say enough great things about our waiter- he was impeccable! He checked in on us just enough to make sure we always had what we needed but not so much that we felt bombarded. He even brought us fresh, complimentary coffee after we paid, as we sat and talked. Loved him!

I was a little disappointed to later find out that this place is a chain, but even knowing that wouldn’t stop me from going back again. All in all, I give Lebanese Taverna two thumbs up!

Until next time,

Nikki

Lebanese Taverna on Urbanspoon

Extraordinary Classic Breakfast

The best foods/meals do not need to push the envelope or be completely innovative. A great meal is often times something that ‘everyone’ can cook and enjoy, but what makes your meal stick out is the execution of it… and Commissary does this sublimely! This breakfast classic of scrambled eggs, turkey sausage, bacon, potato pancakes w/sour cream and wheat toast was FLAWLESS. There was not one thing on this plate that I could place, in my food memory bank, anyone doing it better. They have top-notch ingredients and cooks who actually care about what they are plating and serving to their customers.

It was SOOOOO GOOOOOOD that we actually came back again on our five-day trip to DC (me for business and pleasure for Jason) before we left. The second time was no let down either- this time I got the Eggs Benedict with home fries & THE most amazing, morning cocktail I’ve ever had (and I’m a HUGE mimosa girl). We ordered a whole pitcher of the Strawberry-Mint Sangria; not one sip went unappreciated.

Without a doubt in my head, I can say that I had my first perfectly poached egg here, and I LOVE eggs benedict. I have paid three times more money to have a less satisfactory version of this staple breakfast menu item- it was skillfully cooked and looked beautiful as the yoke came pouring out the second I inserted my knife. The drinks were full of fresh strawberries and mint and perfectly balanced with the right amount of red wine. You cannot go with one of these in hand!

This is the best local eatery that I have ever been to and definitely the best neighborhood restaurant in Logan Circle that ALL of the neighbors have discovered. If you ever find yourself in DC, for work or pleasure, be sure to stop by, grab some food & check out their website (www.commissarydc.com) to learn more about their eco-friendly environment.

Until Next time,
Nikki

Commissary on Urbanspoon

Don’t Miss Out on the Black Creek Bistro!

It doesn’t matter if it’s lunch or dinner, their food items or drinks, you will ALWAYS enjoy yourself at the Black Creek Bistro (blackcreekbistro.com). At lunch it’s bustling and the menu is sandwich focused with sides of their Bistro Salad (my pictured side), a classic Caesar salad, fresh-cut fries or a Thai coleslaw. Dinner has a much more laid back feel, with less noise and commotion so that you can really enjoy your meal and company. Jason & I really love their weeknight specials with an amazing Happy Hour  (TRY IT!).

Depending on how the week goes, I try to have lunch there at least once and this Salmon BLT is my ‘usual’. Every bite is delicious and savory. From the applewood smoked bacon and pesto mayo to the fresh tomatoes and toasted slices of country wheat bread (allows me to believe that it’s healthy as long as it’s stacked between wheat bread) & the whole thing is topped off with a big piece of salmon. I also ask for a side of their Thai red pepper sauce (pictured next to the pickle) for my sandwich, to me all things taste better when they’re a little spicy! You cannot possibly leave the table hungry after spending just $11 for all that is pictured above.

If you are a conscientious eater you will also love spending your funds at a place like Black Creek. A place where they try to buy local produce, compost scrap food and support local artists by displaying their works on all the wall space they have. Everything about The Black Creek Bistro gets two thumbs up, including their amazing staff!

Until next time,

Nikki

Black Creek Bistro on Urbanspoon

And so it begins…

This is the first, and the hardest, post to write because it sets the tone for the whole blog. I’m a big believer in setting the bar low to start- SORRY FOLKS! 🙂

This blog, starting out at least, is a way for me to document and discuss some of the foods that I love or hate, discover or even nostalgically reminisce about, and hear from others on their experiences too. I’ll be writing about food from dives to trendy and/or ‘classy’ joints or maybe something I have cooked myself, but on some days it might just be about a snack that I just purchased instead.

Food and I haven’t always had the best relationship, but I have a ‘healthier’ view on it now and just love to eat things that bring me joy. Coming from the Mahoning Valley I have always thought we had the best food; in some instances I still believe this to be true today. (From coffee & desserts @ the Mocha House, to the best chili cheese dog @ THE Original Hot Dog Shoppe, or the best old world pizza & parms @ Sunrise Inn…& you just can’t forget the unbelievable fried, garlic chicken @ Buena Vista!) But now I have been living in Columbus, OH for over a decade (YIKES!) and cannot get over all the great options we have here for truly great meals, tasty sandwiches, and even great local produce. Over the last seven years or so, I’ve discovered my love for cooking old classics or recreating them with a new twist, trying something new and out of the box; and I’ve learned that variety truly is the spice of life. Food helps make my world go round.

Most of the things I will write about will likely be around food coming from Central Ohio. However, as I do travel for work or for pleasure and I’ll be writing about dishes from Cleveland & Cincinnati to Alaska & D.C. too.  As I am sure you have already noticed, I am not an English major nor a culinary expert and so I apologize ahead of time for writing the way my wacky brain works- but hopefully a little less scattered and a lot more cleaned up! I’ll try to post pictures whenever possible, (Who doesn’t love a good visual/splash of color?!?!) and do my best to tell an honest, although individual opinion, on my excursions.

Hopefully, more than just myself will enjoy the adventure with me & remember, these are just One Ohio Girl’s opinions on the food that she discovers along her journey.

Nikki

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