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Monthly Archives: November 2010

An Anniversary & An Announcement

(my first logo)

It’s the day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, 2010. Time for a brief look back…

In June of 2007, I had just finished my Ph.D. and was looking forward to a new life and career without such a big project constantly hanging over my head. My wife and I had been blogging about our own lives for a couple years – the standard things like our dog, our house, our families – and I mentioned to her that I had thought of starting a new one about breakfast. I’ve always liked it, and with my kinda poor memory, I wanted to record the great meals we’d had. Also, writing about theatre history had really activated my instinct to document sometimes fleeting experiences. She encouraged me to do it.

It started with a simple blog post stating my ideas, and I continued from there. My first two reviews were bland and nearly photo-free. The very first, done while on a post-commencement vacation, was the Gingerbread House Bakery in Frisco, NC: an okay breakfast at a place better known for their pizza and donuts. No pictures. My second post, the first in Columbus, was… wait for it… a Bob Evans. One picture, of the outside, because I was too embarrassed to haul out my camera in front of our breakfasting group.

But the blog has thankfully grown from there. I haven’t really marked any of the anniversaries over the 3.5 years, but I feel the need to mark a particular one today. It was a year ago today – Black Friday 2009 – that my wife, son, and I had breakfast for the first time at The Best Breakfast & Sandwiches in Westerville. We were on our way to cut down our Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving, and wanted to try breakfast somewhere new. Some quick web searches turned up The Best. Arriving there, we stepped into one of the most pleasant and welcoming breakfast experiences we had had in a long time. The food was homemade and comforting, although not out of the ordinary. But the total experience was. Everyone was friendly, engaging, interested in what I was doing, and proud of their own work.

It’s funny how a little thing like that can make such a big impression.

A little later that month, I received an e-mail from someone named Rick Sebak. The e-mail was titled “Mmm. BREAKFAST!” I get a decent number of e-mails; most are great recommendations, a few are weird offers or ideas for projects. Rick said he was a producer with WQED Pittsburgh, that he was making a documentary about breakfast, and that he’d like to make Columbus part of the show. I’m sorry to say I didn’t fully understand or appreciate who Rick was, despite having a passing familiarity with his earlier documentaries. But I was smart enough to say yes, I’d love to be a part of it. Rick asked me to recommend a couple places they could visit. The Best Breakfast was on my mind, as was Skillet.

Skillet was a relative newcomer to the Columbus breakfast scene, although it was led by accomplished chefs Patrick and Kevin Caskey. Earlier that month, I had appeared on Good Day Columbus with Johnny DiLoretto at Skillet. They do wonderfully creative food; that day, I came home with leftover breakfast risotto for my wife.

Skillet and The Best. The innovative and the traditional. A great summary of the Columbus breakfast. I recommended the two, and Rick went for them. In early December, he visited and filmed first at The Best and then Skillet. I spent two fun mornings at the restaurants. Most of the time just observing Rick, his crew, and the restaurants at work, but also getting to jabber about breakfast, practice walking through the front door casually, and eating with an HD camera in my face.

Breakfast Special aired July 14, 2010. That morning I got to chat on WOSU radio with Rick, Kevin from Skillet, Tom from The Best, and Lisa Dillman (aka the Restaurant Widow). We had a small party that night to watch my five minutes of fame. Rick sent us some signed copies of the DVD. The whole documentary is delightful, a true celebration of breakfast. I’ve watched it too many times. And Rick’s not done yet.

Since our first visit to The Best, we’ve had an exciting year. Over the course of 2010, we’ve traveled and sampled breakfast in New York City, Baltimore, Portland, Lexington, the Outer Banks, Pittsburgh, and in between. Nothing like a little travel to broaden your view, and bring some perspective on your own city.

The documentary gave my readership a nice boost. It made me feel grown up. It made me realize there was some significance to consistently writing (and hopefully improving) a blog over three years. I still flinch a little when I tell someone, “I’m a food blogger.” Not that I’m not proud of what I (or others) do. It just sometimes feels like I’m saying, “I’ve got this hobby and want to be taken seriously for it.” But experience is a great teacher, and other things have transpired to make this hobby feel a little more grown up:

  • In August I was named one of the Columbus Alive‘s People to Watch for 2010. This was mainly for my work with Wild Goose Creative, but I like to think the breakfast blog played a small part in it, too. One thing that’s really motivated me since being granted the honor: it’s given in part because of what you’ve done, but more so because of what you’re going to do. I take this as a call to action, an opportunity to really earn the title.
  • In September I began writing a monthly column for (614) Magazine. Suddenly, it feels much more legit to introduce myself with, “I’m a writer for a monthly printed magazine…” So far I’ve written about diners, chicken and waffles, and donuts, and there’s lots more fun stuff to discover. But I’m in print, and I get paid a little to do it.
  • In early November I got to present all about breakfast at Pecha Kucha 15. “Why Columbus is a Great Breakfast City.” Lots of pictures. A little bit of laughter. It’s a very fun and gratifying night. I’m also wearing the exact same green-and-gray striped sweater I wore during the filming of Breakfast Special.

And that brings me to the announcement. (P.S. If you attended Pecha Kucha, I already spilled the beans.) But: I’m writing a book. Breakfast in Columbus, the complete guide. To help in-towners and out-of-towners discover all of Columbus’ unique breakfast stops: neighborhood diners, casual joints, upscale brunches, food carts, all of it. Pictures. Maps. Write-ups. Recommendations. Information. Fun symbols.

I’m working with Periodisa Publishing to print, market, and distribute (aka publish) the book. They’re a new company, but we’re excited about the prospects of working with them, and continuing to support the local scene. Look for official official announcements soon.

Also exciting about the project: photography and design will be done by the amazing Robin Oatts of Genre Creative. We’ve worked with Robin many times before, and absolutely love her work. She designed the Wild Goose Creative website, she tweaked my current logo, and any time we want pictures of our son Will, Robin’s our go-to. With Robin involved, we know the book will look spectacular, and truly show off Columbus’ breakfast scene.

The book should be out in later 2011. I’ll post updates, ask for suggestions, and maybe ask for some breakfasting buddies to help seek out obscure eats. And of course the actual writing and reviewing on the blog will continue, too. Lots more Columbus breakfast to document!

It’s Thanksgiving weekend, and I’m very grateful for the developments over the past year. Who’d have thought that a simple, warm welcome at The Best would turn into such a partnership, and be part of so many new opportunities? I never thought a lowly food blog (just one of a large number of high-quality ones in Columbus) would become something, however small that is.

Happy Thanksgiving! See you at breakfast tomorrow.

Nick

Dajio Restaurant | Ocracoke, NC

Dajio Restaurant
305 Irvin Garrish Highway (map it!)
Ocracoke, NC 27960
(252) 928-7119
Open Mon – Sat, 8 am – 9 pm (breakfast served 8-11 am); Sundays bar only is open
Accepts cash and credit cards
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N

Date of Visit: Monday, June 21, 2010 at 10:30 a.m.

IMPRESSIONS: Dajio is a recent addition to the village on Ocracoke Island, taking the space occupied for years by The Pelican. With a nice central location in the village, right on the main drag of Irvin Garrish Highway, plus an inviting decor and outdoor seating, Dajio fits nicely into with island’s relaxed and colorful vibe.

The name itself (pronounced “DAH-gee-oh”) is an acronym for Doug and Judy in Ocracoke. Like many who have set foot on the beautiful Outer Banks of North Carolina, owners Doug and Judy dreamt of living and working there, and Ocracoke Island’s particular charm drew them in after years of owning restaurants. They bring with them years of Kentucky cooking, and their restaurant’s real charm is in its blend of southern and island flavors.

ATMOSPHERE: Dajio fits the island atmosphere perfectly. Their seating includes the front room of the house itself, a deck to the side, and a wooden covered shack. The restaurant is easy to get to by foot. There are only a few parking spots out front, but the village isn’t huge, so you could easily park at the official lot down by the ferries, and then walk up. Be advised: Ocracoke summers can be hot, and some sections of the patio will be in the sun. Yet the patio itself feels secluded from the street with a big brick wall and large trees.

Inside is bright and cool, with a refurbished-house type of feeling.

FOOD: Dajio has a small but specialized menu, organized simply as their Scrambles & Signatures. Each category features only five items, so Dajio has ten major items on their breakfast menu. I always take comfort in this. I would much rather see a restaurant do a small amount of things really well rather the “Cheesecake Factory Syndrome.”

Even though Dajio has only ten primary dishes on the menu, each one comes with a choice of two sides:
House Potatoes
Cherry Smoked Bacon
Sage Farm Sausage
Country White or Wheat Toast
Bagel
English Muffin
Homemade Sweet Potato Biscuit
Fresh Fruit

We visited Dajio with a big group, so we got pictures of a lot of variations.

Another nice thing about their food? It’s colorful. Breakfast can be a pretty bland-colored meal, but Doug and Judy and company manage to punch up the color here. Pictured above are the Carmelized Apple Pancakes with sides of the sausage and toast. Awesome.

Eggs Blackstone, with sides of potatoes and the sweet potato biscuit. Some of our party weren’t sold on the biscuits, but I liked ‘em. They were flat and dense, and only lightly sweet.

Look at these potatoes! This is what potatoes should be. Great colors, well seasoned.

Turkey BLT scramble, with sides of the sweet potato biscuit and fruit.

Standard scramble, with fruit and sausage.

More Eggs Blackstone, with fruit and sweet potato biscuits.

Big Fat Greek scramble, with bagel.

Eggs Blackstone in progress.

Veggie scramble, with potatoes. Look at those big pieces of avocado and asparagus!

Shrimp and Grits, made with local shrimp and served with manchego cheese grits. Simply delicious.

With some sausage and potatoes.

And finally, my dish. I had to try the Hot Brown Strata, essentially a lasagna-like version of the classic Kentucky dish. I’ve had hot brown in Kentucky before, and had to take the opportunity for more. This one layers turkey, tomatoes, bacon, eggs, with a white cheese sauce. It was really great. I also liked the sausage (good seasoning) and the sweet potato biscuits.

All in all, we were really delighted with Dajio’s food. Some items were a little better than others, but overall there’s a lot of colorful and creative things to try.

SERVICE: Our service was good, although our server was definitely stretched thin by the big crowd. And this was even on a mid-morning Monday. But she certainly handled the group well enough. The food came out pretty quickly, even though it felt a little longer as we were sitting in the hot sun.

OVERALL: Our day trip to Ocracoke Island one of the highlights of our annual visit to the Outer Banks, and that’s been brightened all the more by Dajio’s arrival on the island. Doug and Judy have made good use of a central location, and they’ve taken island standards like seafood and grits, and ratcheted them up a notch with Kentucky influences. The result is a very colorful and delightful experience, and we look forward to it again next year.

OTHER LINKS:

Dajio on Urbanspoon


Avon on Dwellable

Photos: donuts at DK Diner

On the path of Columbus’ best locally-made donuts for my November 2010 (614) Magazine column, I had the opportunity to revisit the DK Diner in Grandview.

We picked up a box of a mixed dozen ($6.90) in order to properly sample their fare. Aw, poor us.

DK is owned by the Teny family; I chatted with Anthony, general manager and son of the owner. Anthony says the diner – originally just called the Donut Kitchen – has been in their family for 19 years. At first they just served donuts, but over the years they added lunch, and finally breakfast.

Their donuts are made in small batches every morning starting around 3:30 to 4:30 a.m.

Friday and Saturday are clearly the best-selling days for donuts. Once in a while they sell out by 8 a.m.

They make only about 15 types of donuts (another case of doing something but small reaaaaally well).

And they cover all the standards: cake, glazed, blueberry, chocolate, apple fritters…

…longjohns, Bismarcks.

The clear stand-out, and winner of the Best Donut in Columbus, in my opinion, are the glazed sour cream donuts. They’re misshapen, moist and cakey on the inside, with a thin, crackly glazed shell.

If you’ve never been to the DK Diner, seek it out. Their food is great and the atmosphere is super casual. You seat yourself. You get your own drinks: you pick one of the mismatched mugs from the shelf and help yourself to the small fridge for cream in your coffee). When you go to pay at the register, you tell the waitstaff what you had. The walls are plastered with a mish-mash of Grandview gear. Five TVs blare various sports. And you’ll have to fight all the families for a shot at the donuts.

My wife and I just HAD to have breakfast while I did my research. I revisited the DK All the Way: eggs, ham, and sausage gravy on biscuits and home fries. Yup.

(Side note: the phrase “Double Rainbow All the Way” has become popular because of this viral YouTube video. You’ll see people on Twitter declare something is really cool by typing “DRATW.” One thought, Columbusites: could we get “DK All the Way” to be our phrase of superlative praise? Think about it… DKATW.)

My wife gave their Mess a try: it’s corned beef hash with two eggs, onions & peppers, and a side of bread; she chose a biscuit. Also good and plenty filling.

If you want these donuts and/or their breakfast:
DK Diner
1715 West Third Ave.
Columbus, OH
Open Mon-Fri 6:30 am – 2 pm
Sat 7:30 am – 1 pm
Sun 8:30 am – 1 pm
Get there early!

Linden Cafe | Columbus, OH


[UPDATE: The Linden Cafe is CLOSED.]

Linden Cafe (Facebook)
1393 Cleveland Ave. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43211
(614) 754-1054
Open Monday-Saturday, 8 a.m. – 2 p.m. (bfast served until 11 weekdays; all day Sat)
Accepts cash and credit cards
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Date of Visit: Tuesday, September 7, 2010 at 8:45 a.m.

IMPRESSIONS: I’ve been hearing about Linden Cafe for years, but have never known anyone who’s been. They do have a Facebook page, although it’s relatively dormant. But whispers around town say they have the best chicken and waffles in Columbus, and in doing some “research” into the dish for (614) Magazine, I paid this mainstay soul food joint a visit on a quiet Tuesday morning.

You’ll find the Linden Cafe at the southwest corner of 11th and Cleveland Avenues, nestled in the heart of South Linden. This intersection, known as the Four Corners Project, has been revamped in recent years. The surrounding buildings – like the one housing the Cafe – feature new brick and gleaning glass fronts. The cafe itself is easy to to drive by. Look for the pink neon sign above the door; you’ll find parking around back.

ATMOSPHERE: Tuesday morning is clearly a calmer time for them (although I’ve seen much busier times at later visits). Inside, the space is nice and new. Recreated tin ceiling, laminate floors, a counter built of stone, 11 tables, plus a simple, open kitchen. You can see the flattop, deep fryer, and waffle iron all in action.

Bright morning sun poured in through the huge windows. Relaxing jazz played over the speakers.

FOOD: Linden Cafe serves breakfast and lunch only. The breakfast menu is a single slim sheet, so your options aren’t plentiful, but I always prefer places that only do a few things really well. The breakfast menu features omelets (Sante Fe and the Nature’s Bounty veggie are their signatures), Breakfast Sandwiches, Pancakes, Morning Traditions (2 eggs + meat; give their turkey sausage a try), plus Sides & Drinks.

The real star of the show, however, is their Chicken and Waffles. Linden Cafe serves their signature dish all day, every day, and they’re often lauded the best in Columbus. This is a notion I gladly support.

I got to chat with owner Michael Mayfield, and he spilled the beans (or batter, actually) on their famous dish. He offers the option of chicken wings or tenders with your meal. The chicken is brined twenty-four hours, then seasoned and fried to order. Michael spikes the waffles with vanilla and nutmeg, then garnishes them with a lemon and your choice of side. Served with a small pot of syrup and, yes, melted butter.

And, oh, dear reader, the chicken and waffles are delicious. It’s a big portion of solid comfort food; I can’t imagine ordering anything else there. I chose the chicken tenders (generally don’t like bones in my breakfast), and they are super tender – just so moist and well seasoned. The waffles are thick, crispy, and almost cakey. They’re not soggy in the least, although I think the syrup is necessary. You can really taste the vanilla in the batter, and the combination of the sweet waffles and savory chicken is to die for.

I chose a side of hash browns. They were good, although I’m always suspicious when food comes out in blocks. Probably pre-frozen. But I can’t complain on the taste.

SERVICE: Service was very friendly and attentive, although I was one of only a handful of customers. Michael told me a little more about the business while I ate. The Cafe itself has been around for several years; he and his wife Tamara took it over in June of 2009 and headed up much of the refurb. While they gave the restaurant a new look, they knew enough to keep up the chicken and waffles tradition.

Even though the Cafe hustles and bustles, 75% of their business comes through catering. You can also rent the Cafe space itself, either the front room or a conference room in back. They also feature wifi for anyone who wants to linger. If you’re interested in coming back for the lunch menu, take a look at their daily specials like Meatloaf Monday, Turkey Tuesday, Wednesday Wings, Thursday Soul Food, and Friday Fish.

OVERALL: I’m still craving Linden Cafe’s food, so what does that tell you? The refurbished cafe is bright and cozy, the whole crew is welcoming, and man oh man those chicken and waffles are delicious. My vote for the best in Columbus!

OTHER LINKS:
-> my (614) Magazine write-up on chicken and waffles (includes blurb on Linden Cafe)

Linden Cafe on Urbanspoon

Photos: chicken and waffles at Banana Bean Cafe

QUICK NOTE: Banana Bean introduced a new menu and hours on November 9, after I wrote this. They now open at 9 am, Tuesday-Sunday. The new menu modified the chicken and waffles to become Granddaddie’s Fried Chicken and Pumpkin Pancakes. Still sounds like a winning comfort food combo, AND it’s now available every day, not just on weekends.

On the road for the October 2010 (614) Magazine article, I found myself at a favorite breakfast haunt: Banana Bean Cafe. A visit to BBC last November marked my first taste of chicken and waffles ever, so in doing research for the article, I naturally thought of coming back there.

Banana Bean’s executive chef Robin Emrick kindly showed me how the Bean makes their Granddaddie’s Chicken and Waffles.

They introduced the dish two years ago as a special at their old Whittier space. The marinade is made with buttermilk and Holmes Amish eggs, then seasoned with cumin, fennel, and other spices.

De-boned, free range chicken.

It gets a double dip from flour to buttermilk to flour.


Then it spends about 10 minutes in the fryer.

The waffle batter is made with vanilla, almond, and a hint of orange.

Plating up.

And the final product on the table. Robin serves her chicken and waffles with an apricot glaze instead of syrup (although you can still ask for syrup). But the glaze adds a different kind of sweetness to the dish; it successfully complements the almond flavors in the waffle. And then the chicken has a great savory crisp to it. Goes hand-in-hand with the waffles.

If you want to try these chicken and waffles:
Banana Bean Cafe
340 Greenlawn Ave.
Columbus, OH
(614) 443-2262

Fitzy’s Old Fashioned Diner | Columbus, OH

Fitzy’s Old Fashioned Diner
1487 Schrock Rd. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43229
(614) 846-1004
Open 24 hours a day
Accepts cash and credit cards
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? N/N/N

Date of Visit: Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 9:15 a.m.

IMPRESSIONS: If diners were people, Fitzy’s Old Fashioned Diner would be the bad-ass older brother you look up to: he’s a little gruff, he’s got posters of girls on his walls, he likes cars, he never goes to bed, and he eats a lot. Parked up on Schrock Road near the big Budweiser plant, Fitzy’s is a classic-looking diner with a little sass and a lot of character. It’s rough around the edges, hung posters of Marilyn Monroe and classic cars, and caters to any crowd, whether you’re stumbling in from a local bar at 2:00 a.m., or settling in for a pleasant 10:00 a.m. meetup with friends.

Owner Mike Lott just celebrated ten years of doing breakfast and more at Fitzy’s. He opened the place in July of 2000, serving his first customer Phil at 5:30 am and closing up shop at 3:00 pm. (P.S. Phil still comes in at 5:30 every morning.) After noticing the trends in crowds, he opened up during third shift to serve the bar customers, and eventually added second shift, too. Quite the unusual order – 1st, 3rd, then 2nd shift – but the result is that rarity of a good Columbus breakfast spot that’s open twenty-four hours a day.

Mike is big and brash, and a lot of fun to talk to. He proudly defends his place, and will fight for his customers. He’s also perfectly honest about his food and his clientele: “We’re selling pork and we’re selling pork fat,” he says. “That’s what America loves. It’s called a greasy spoon for a reason.” In addition to running the great American Diner, Mike occasionally hosts classic car shows with Marilyn Monroe look-alikes.

ATMOSPHERE: I visited Fitzy’s on a relatively quiet Thursday morning, with my occasional breakfast partner Jason. A few other tables were full, but otherwise the crowd was sparse. The nice thing about Fitzy’s round-the-clock availability is that you can visit whenever it best suits your mood. Up for a rowdy atmosphere? Visit at midnight on a weekend. Mike says he has to hire a cop to keep things under control (ask him about the velvet Marilyn Monroe poster that got destroyed). Or if you’re up for something quieter, stop by during second shift – still their slowest period, Mike says.

Have a look around Fitzy’s, and you’ll see all the standard American diner decor. Checkered floor. Counter with swivelly stools. Pictures of Elvis and JFK. Old-timey register. Brown coffee mugs.

FOOD: The breakfast menu is one page long and covers all the basics, but there are a couple items I haven’t seen that often, like the Steak Omelet and the Bologna & Eggs.

No matter you what order, or what time of day it is, prepare yourself to be served a crap-ton (actual unit of measurement) of food. Fitzy’s is up there with some of the largest portions I’ve seen.

Here’s our food when it arrived. Mike made special mention of their home-fried potatoes. He said his loyal customers clamor for them, and he’d probably lose half his clientele if he ever changed the recipe. All the potatoes are hand-washed, peeled, boiled, and sliced before browning on the flattop. Mike says they go through a ton of potatoes every month.

Jason ordered the Steak Omelet with pepperjack cheese. Came with a side of the home fries. The steak is cooked to order. Your choice of cheese. Jason said it was quite good, and huge by any standards.

He ordered a side of the corned beef hash, too. It had a very generous crust, and was slightly sweet.

I was too curious about the Sausage Steak & Gravy not to order it, so I did. Not just sausage gravy and biscuits, mind you. But a gigantic sausage patty with gravy.

Oh, and a massive side of eggs and potatoes.

Oh, and they’ll let you substitute your toast with a pancake or french toast.

Birds-eye view of our breakfast. Can you count the plates?

They also serve Ronz Original Hot Sauce, made here in Columbus.

Overall, I’d judge the food to be, well, good diner food. Mike has reason to be proud of it. The eggs and pancakes were done well, the sausage patty tasted great (although I doubt it was made in-house). The gravy had a good peppery kick to it, and the potatoes – not the best I’ve ever had – but they tasted fresh and were nice and crispy. Nothing really to rave about, but certainly nothing to complain about, either.

SERVICE: Our service was very fast and very friendly, although we clearly got the royal treatment after our talk with the boss-man. But our server gave us the appropriate amount of sass to make us feel at home in a diner.

OVERALL: Mike’s got a good thing going at Fitzy’s. His restaurant started small, originally only the left side of the restaurant, with a counter and four 2-tops. Over the years, he’s expanded to take up a larger space, including knocking out an efficiency apartment in the back and expanding his bathrooms into it. Mike has created an institution, complete with semi-famous regulars and servers. Fitzy’s is the rough-and-rowdy diner, which means you’ve got to be in the mood for it, but the next time you need a good breakfast, and at any time of day, skip those late-night chains and give Fitzy’s a try.

OTHER LINKS:
-> my (614) Magazine write-up on Columbus diners (article is offline)

Fitzy's Old Fashioned Diner on Urbanspoon

(614) November & Pecha Kucha 15

Quick heads-up: my latest column for (614) Magazine is now online. For November I delved into the delicious world of family-run donut shops around Columbus, including visits to Resch’s Bakery, Buckeye Donuts, and DK Diner. Look for some posts and pictures on those soon.

My wife and I have been traveling a bit lately, so I’m behind on posting. But our journeys have taken us across the country, so I’ll have reviews up soon for breakfast spots in Portland, Oregon, from southern New Jersey, and a delightful stop in downtown Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Plus a lot of Columbus highlights. All to come soon, I promise.

This Wednesday, November 10, you’ll find me presenting at Pecha Kucha 15 at the Wexner Center for the Arts. It’s taking place in the Black Box; doors open at 7:00; presentations start at 7:30. The whole lineup looks fantastic! I’ll be presenting on “Why Columbus is a Great Breakfast City.”

Don’t forget that November 8-14 is Dine Originals Week in Columbus. Lots of easy and inexpensive ways to try out some of Columbus’ best restaurants.

And look for a big Breakfast with Nick announcement coming soon, too!

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