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Monthly Archives: June 2011

The Outer Banks: a vacation in food

I’m recently returned from an annual vacation on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. We head far south down Hatteras Island, venturing to the smaller towns where the ratio of tourists to locals balances out more toward the latter. I’ve written plenty about breakfasts on Hatteras and Ocracoke Island already. In fact, my first review ever was posted almost exactly four years ago today. (Awww…) I discovered one new spot this year – review will be up soon – but I thought I’d share a few of our non-breakfast food pictures. The habit to document good meals runs strong with me, so I stopped resisting the urge. To begin: up top you’ll see a beautifully fried piece of Spanish mackerel from a local fish fry. Served out of the back of a truck, with a vinegar-based slaw, hush puppies, and beans. Simple, but really good.

The family also tries to buy and prepare local seafood whenever we can. We pick up pounds of cooked crab from some of the last remaining crab houses. Here’s our crab cakes in progress. My mother-in-law makes them every year, and they’re really fantastic.

It’s a big family, so we make a lot. Here there’s the lot of them, ready for baking.

Another family favorite are the gigantic scallops brought in by local fisherman. Sear them just right, and they will melt in your mouth.

And last is our seafood linguini. Huge plates of pasta, covered with sauteed veggies, then topped with seafood. Here we have crab, scallops, then shark steaks (the white pieces), and rare tuna.

The family is large enough that we prepare two platters of it. There’s very little left when we’re through, at least of the seafood…

So that’s our tiny Outer Banks food travelogue. Look for a couple more posts on the breakfast offerings soon!

Photos: making huevos rancheros!

One of our traditions while on vacation is to experiment with different breakfasts, and today we decided to make a variation of huevos rancheros. We started out by sauteing green peppers, onions, and garlic (1 big onion, 2 peppers). Once those were fairly cooked down, we dumped four cans of black beans, liquid and all, and let those continue to cook down. We kept seasoning simple with a generous helping of Penzy’s salsa seasoning.

In a separate pan, we broke up a package of chorizo we bought from the grocery store, and essentially let that cook down.

In a third pan I made some sunny side up eggs.

And then we simply combined it! Big spoonful of the beans and veggies, topped with cheese and an egg. Scoop of the chorizo, and then salsa and guacamole on the side. It’s a great breakfast before a day at the beach!

Yeah, Me Too | Columbus, OH

Yeah, Me Too
3005 Indianola Ave. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43202
Open Mon-Sat 7 a.m. – 6 p.m.?
Accepts cash only

Date of Visit: Often

IMPRESSIONS: If you’ve read anything about Yeah, Me Too, people have probably said the following: there’s no phone number, no website, no Facebook page, no Twitter handle. You can order coffee hot or iced, large or small. And that’s it. By some regards, it’s incredible that someone would run a business today in this manner. Eclipsing that, however, is the relief that Yeah, Me Too is so uncomplicated that it’s hard to mess it up. The result, in my opinion, is the best coffee in Columbus.

Yeah, Me Too also represents a bit of Columbus history. Owners Jovan Karcic and Sam Brown were both members of the band Gaunt, often cited as the best band ever to come out of Columbus. The band’s run ended tragically in 2001 with the death of lead singer Jerry Wick. The shop, opened in 2005, is named after one of the band’s albums.

ATMOSPHERE: The coffee shop is one room. Big front windows let in most of the light. The back portion holds the coffee and brewing supplies. The front is a small standing area for customers, and includes the roaster itself.

The room gets fairly warm in the summer, although a screen door lets a breeze in; I don’t think they turn the heat on in the winter.

The single room could be bland, but the walls are always covered with the work of local artists.

FOOD: They just serve coffee, and it’s always excellent. Cream and sugar are present, but more often than not, you don’t need it. You can ask which roast they’re brewing each day, but I rarely do, because I always enjoy it. You can (and should) also buy whole beans by the pound. The selection rotates regularly.

SERVICE: For some people, the service is a sticking point. Yovan and Sam are nice, but not always very talkative, and some have said it’s off-putting. Again, as many have observed, this is the complete antithesis of the modern coffee shop. If you really really really like the way Starbucks does everything, then Yeah, Me Too might not be your best bet. But if you just want a great cup of coffee, dangit, and you don’t care about all the extras, you need to become a regular at Yeah, Me Too. Besides, I’ve always had good experiences in chatting with Sam and Yovan.

OVERALL: It’s just the best coffee in Columbus. That’s it. Stop in for a cup of coffee (you can bring your own mug) or pick up some beans to brew at home.

Yeah, Me Too on Urbanspoon

The Clarmont | Columbus, OH

[UPDATE 1/23/12: The Clarmont is now closed.]

The Clarmont (Facebook / @TheClarmont)
648 S. High St. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 443-1125
Bfast served Mon-Sat, 7-11 am; check website for lunch & dinner hours
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Date of Visit: Saturday, March 5, 2011 at 10:15 am

IMPRESSIONS: For years, I thought the Clarmont was an old hotel on South High Street. Am I crazy? Is there a chain of hotels under that name? But that’s beside the point. The Clarmont has been around for decades, and for some people (like ignorant me), it sailed under the radar. But their recent marketing efforts have paid off, and they now draw in happy hour crowds and breakfast enthusiasts alike.

The Clarmont opened in 1947, and you still sense the 40′s in the decor. The signs and menu are classic art deco. Rose lamps along the walls provide dim lighting. Lots of glass signs.

Behind the waiting area you can see the big circular bar. It’s become a popular happy hour stop, with drinks like the Twixlen named after regulars.

Old phone booth. When do you see those anymore?

The dining rooms are dimly lit, so your breakfasting experience feels very quiet and relaxing. There are two rooms total. One is slightly raised above the other; it was dark the morning we visited. Overall, lots of pink pastel colors. “Nighthawks” hangs on the wall.

Your experience is punctuated by jazz muzak.

FOOD: Our meal started out with a really impressive note. We ordered coffee (which was very good; fresh ground and it came with small jugs of milk – bonus!) plus a couple juices. It look a few minutes for them to arrive because our server was squeezing them fresh! Above: grapefruit juice.

And here: orange juice. It’s hard to go wrong with fresh-squeezed juices.

We ordered a bunch of different things. Overall, good, although there was some hit and miss. Here are some pancakes with chocolate chips. Very nice!

One of the menu features: scrambled eggs with mushrooms and toast. Straightforward and easy to like.

Something you don’t always see on breakfast menus: fried chicken livers. Casually listed in the Side Orders. My mother-in-law, who grew up in a poultry market, said they tasted good but were a tad over-cooked.

A good Spanish omelette, with onions, peppers, and salsa.

Side of hash browns, nice and crispy.

Classic eggs benedict, although I wasn’t a fan of the hollandaise. Tasted canned to me.

Same with the corned beef hash. Decent dish, but it tasted canned. Comes with eggs and toast.

SERVICE: Our service was really excellent. To the point that we commented about it to each other. Our server was super friendly, knowledgeable about the menu, and very quick. She even made a point to bring my two-year-old son’s food out a little earlier, recognizing that he was getting a little antsy.

OVERALL: There’s a lot to recommend The Clarmont. It’s a veritable south-downtown institution, and has been going strong since 1947 for several good reasons. The decoration is a pleasing throw-back, the service is some of the best I’ve experienced in recent memory, and the menu covers all of your favorites, plus a couple unique offerings. It’s a little hit and miss for me, but given the variety, you’ll be sure to find something you like.

Clarmont on Urbanspoon

Sweet Clove gift card giveaway!

TUESDAY UPDATE: The contest is now CLOSED!

Hello, readers! You may have read last week about my visit to the Sweet Clove Sunshine Cafe, a new concept store from Honey Baked Ham. Well, now here’s your chance to experience it! I’ll be giving away a $25 gift card tomorrow, Tuesday, June 7. All you need to do is “like” my Facebook page (facebook.com/BreakfastWithNick); I’ll post a fun survey question tomorrow morning, then will choose a random winner from the responses. You’ll have until midnight tomorrow night to post! (Please note: this contest is intended for readers in the Columbus area!)


Even if you don’t win, here’s a coupon for the Cafe. The folks from Sweet Clove have generously donated this and the gift card for my readers. Click on the image above and print it off for a buy one-get one offer (good through June 19, 2011) at the cafe!

Happy breakfasting!
Nick

Honey Dip Donuts & Diner | Columbus, OH

Honey Dip Donuts (Facebook)
4480 Kenny Rd. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43220
(614) 459-0812
Open everyday, 6 am – 4 pm
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Date of Visit: Thursday, May 26, 2011 at 12:00 pm

IMPRESSIONS: Geographically, Columbus has itself pretty well covered, donutally. Grandview has DK Diner. Campus and the south side have Buckeye Donuts. Westerville has Schneider’s. The east side has Resch’s. And if you’re headed west, you’ve got Honey Dip Donuts.

ATMOSPHERE: The look and feel of Honey Dip Donuts is so decidedly old school, it’s almost painful. The half-lit signs that list the donut flavors. The pink shelves lined with trays of goodies.

That long, low counter that’s only wide enough for munching a custard-filled and sipping a cup of angry diner coffee.

But that’s the charm: they’re a simple, small, family-run donut shop that’s been going strong for decades. With their 30-40 varieties of glazed twists, buttermilks, cream-filleds, and powdered sugareds, why would they mess with a good thing?

FOOD: As expected, the main feature is donuts, and I haven’t had a bad one there so far. I’m a big fan of buttermilk donuts, and they do plenty of those, from chocolate or vanilla, iced or not, with a variety of flavors, too. The one thing I haven’t had yet is their pumpkin donut, which gets most of the attention at Honey Dip. I guess a return visit is in order.

The selection is wide enough that you’re bound to find something you like.

Here’s the half-dozen I brought home on this particular day. The two on the left are the signature honey dip donut, very light with a thin honey glaze. If you want something sweet, but not too sweet, this is your donut. The middle two are some very good buttermilk donuts. The bottom right corner is a chocolate buttermilk with, yes, chocolate frosting. The top right is a custard-filled bite of deliciousness.

SERVICE: Everyone at Honey Dip is very nice and helpful. The customers, too, are that breed of die-hards who will interrupt the server and start telling you which donuts are best. That’s when you know, for sure, they’ve got a good thing going.

OVERALL: In lieu of another trip to Tim Horton’s or Krispy Kreme, you need to find your way to Honey Dip. Let them show you what real donuts are like. Sidle up at the counter, strike up conversation with a regular, and enjoy another Columbus institution that deserves your support.

As a quick side note: Honey Dip Donuts will close on June 4, 2011 for 4-5 weeks of renovations. When they emerge, they’ll be re-christened the Honey Dip Donuts & Diner, with full breakfast and lunch offerings. Expect a report when their breakfast hits!

Honey Dip Donuts & Coffee on Urbanspoon

Sweet Clove Sunshine Cafe | Columbus, OH

Sweet Clove Sunshine Cafe
6630 Sawmill Rd. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43235
(614) 764-1717
Open Mon-Sat, 7-3; Sun, 8-3 (bfast served all day)
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Date of Visit: Monday, May 30, 2011, at 11:00 a.m.

IMPRESSIONS: I’ve gotten a few notes from readers over the past few months about Honey Baked Ham opening a concept store up on Sawmill Road, and I’ll admit that I was intrigued. Columbus has long been known as a test market for food chains and the like: Wendy’s, Donato’s, White Castle, and Max & Erma’s started or are headquartered here; McDonald’s marketing firm is based here; cable television first debuted in town; the list goes on. So it was no surprise that Honey Baked would debut a new restaurant here in town, attached to one of their existing stores.

ATMOSPHERE: We ventured out on a hot Memorial Day, and found ourselves in essentially a modern country setting. Big, square yellow tables, bright yellow walls with black and white pictures of the Honey Baked Ham founders and their early stores. In one corner is a fireplace; out front is a small patio.

FOOD: We started with some coffee, which was pretty good. The server said it was a standard bulk food service roast, but they grind the beans fresh. Points for automatically bringing a small mug of cream.

Shortly after you sit down, they bring your table what they call “A gift of friendship,” which is a small, warm crumb cake with maple butter. It’s a very welcoming start to the meal.

The Sweet Clove menu is designed to feature the Honey Baked Ham product, so it shows up in a lot of the dishes. Case in point: their Signature Benedict. Features your standard English muffin, poached eggs, hollandaise, plus slices of their ham. Served with a side of potatoes. Overall, very nicely done. It’s a very filling dish. The key point in a benedict (for me) is the hollandaise, which was light and tasted fresh, not canned.

This is the Original French Toast. Four big slices. Cooked just right, so it’s a bit custardy and cut-able with a fork. Big bonus that it’s served with a side of real Vermont maple syrup.

And then there are variations on the signature dishes. This is the Bacon and Ham Benedict. One had their classic ham, one had a couple slices of bacon. Again, filling, and again, a very good benedict. Side of potatoes was very nice, too.

Small kids menu, too. Scrambled eggs and toast for my son.

I had a reader suggest I try the Blueberry Ginger French toast, so this was on my mind the moment we decided to visit. Just like the regular French toast, it’s cut thick and very soft. I couldn’t taste the ginger that much, but I assume it was in the batter. Blueberries were nice, as was the real maple syrup.

The folks at Sweet Clove understand some of the performance of food, too. One of the big selling points of the French toast is that your server comes around with a GIANT BOWL OF WHIPPED CREAM to dollop onto your dish.

The benefit of this (for the restaurant, at least) is that you see servers dole out the whipped cream to other tables, so instantly your appetite is whetted.

SERVICE: Our server was quiet but very nice. She had a good sense of humor, everything came out quickly, and she kept an eye on us. Overall, the table setup is appealing, too: orange square plates, salt and pepper grinders, bamboo centerpieces, fun little honey bowl (for sale in the shop, of course).

OVERALL: Because Sweet Clove Sunshine Cafe (say that five times fast) is a concept store for Honey Baked Ham, it’s attached to the store itself. So you can wander through their gift shop or order ham to take home.

So what can I say about the Cafe? Yes, it is the beginning of a new chain restaurant, but so far they seem to have a lot of things right. The overall experience is comfortable, the food is well prepared and very filling. The prices are higher than your diner breakfast – $10-12 per entree – but the portions are appropriate for it. Sawmill Road isn’t exactly in my neighborhood, but the Cafe was full when we visited, and I’m still craving another bite of that French toast.

I’d be very curious to know what others think of it!

Sweet Clove Sunshine Cafe on Urbanspoon

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