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Beyond Breakfast: Penn State Berkey Creamery

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What goes best with a little BBQ while you’re on the road in spring break? Ice cream! And if you happen to be on the road anywhere near central Pennsylvania, your best bet for ice cream has to be Penn State University’s Berkey Creamery.

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I know I know I know… I’m a blogger from Ohio, I teach at THE Ohio State University, Penn State is supposed to be a sworn enemy, blah blah blah. Columbus does ice cream well – we do it very well – but ice cream has been proven to transcend cultural, geographic, national, and yes, sometimes religious boundaries. So while we have lots of ice cream to be proud of in central Ohio, we’ve got to acknowledge the excellence of Penn State’s ice cream program. After all, our very own Jeni of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams attended Berkey Creamery.

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At the Berkey Creamery, it’s not just all ice cream. There’s sherbet, there’s cheese, and there are sticky buns from the local diner.

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In recent years the Creamery moved to a new space in the new Food Science Building. From what I barely remember of the old space (I only peaked in once), this is spot is bigger and more open. One corner of it is run like a good old fashioned convenience store, but a majority of the space is dedicated to the ice cream.

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Like any established ice cream shop, the Berkey Creamery has its share of famous flavors, like Peachy Paterno, Coconut Chip, and Mint Nittany. One of the more well known – and my personal favorite – is the Death By Chocolate.

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Death By Chocolate isn’t a really complex flavor, it’s just really, really great chocolate ice cream. It’s rich, it’s not over-the-top sweet, and it’s served in a generous heaping cup.

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We also “sampled” the cookies & cream and the peanut butter swirl.

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I’ve always had a soft spot for cookies and cream. It’s one of my go-tos at any ice cream parlor. The chunkier, the better.

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This would be a great way to go.

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Aside from eating ice cream on premises, we also visited with the purpose of loading up a cooler with half gallons. The creamery features an entire wall of freezers loaded top to bottom with ice cream, and they’ll pack it on dry ice for you.

For ice cream lovers or for casual travelers, the Berkery Creamery is a must-stop in central Pennsylvania. And don’t be intimidated by the campus location: it’s easy to access and a nearby parking garage has half hour spots dedicated to Creamery visitors.

If you want to visit:
Berkey Creamery
119 Food Science Building (map it!)
University Park, PA 16802
creamery.psu.edu
See also on Facebook and @PSUCreamery

Berkey Creamery on Urbanspoon

Beyond Breakfast: Gio’s BBQ

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Spring break yielded some culinary adventures for us, as we trekked across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. What about a little bit of road food?

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The best road food shows up in the most unexpected places. In this case it was a barbecue joint… inside a gas station… a little ways outside State College, PA at the intersection of routes 970 and 322. If you’re traveling to or from Penn State on the western side, chances are you’ll pass by this gas station. And when you do, you can stop for lunch.

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The building itself is half gas station convenience store and half restaurant. Dead center is the counter with hand-written menus on bright orange cardstock. The moral here is not to let the simple exterior fool you: this food goes far beyond the typical gas station Slim Jims and overcooked hotdogs. The wafting smell of smoky barbecue and the small army of cooks in the kitchen tell you that locals and travelers alike keep this place busy, and for a reason.

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Case in point: the beef brisket sandwich. Smoky and flavorful, sliced thin and piled on a bun with cole slaw and a Carolina-style sauce.

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The pulled pork sandwich smothered in sauteed veggies.

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The half rack of ribs with a generous mound of pulled pork hidden below.

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The ribs were a tad on the dry side but smoked appropriately. They pulled apart easily and were sauced without being drowned. In other words, the meat was given a chance to shine, rather than having its flaws hidden by slopping on the condiments.

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A small beef brisket platter. All of the sides were done well, but the side of sauce with each dish really stood out to me. It was rich, tomatoey (that’s a word, right?), and surprisingly tangy. Made for excellent dipping of said sliced brisket.

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We caught the restaurant before a big lunch rush, but even so there were always 2-3 people at the counter, getting BBQ in-house or to-go.

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Gio’s sells their sauce, too. A big sign above the display boasts of the awards they’ve won. Side note: maybe I don’t know BBQ well enough, but sometimes awards for BBQ seem like Grammy’s. So many people are awarded so many different prizes that I don’t know if it really counts for something. Not that I’m holding this against Gio’s in particular. Just making an observation.

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Overall, a worthy stop if you’re trekking up and around the foothills of central Pennsylvania. Gio’s knows their audience well, with specific signage to address Penn State aficionados.

If you want to visit:
Gio’s BBQ
2829 Woodland Bigler Highway (map it!)
Woodland, PA 16881
(814) 857-714
giosbbq.com

Gio's BBQ on Urbanspoon

Lalibela Ethiopian Restaurant | Columbus, OH

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Ethiopian cuisine has long been one of our favorites. You may have noticed this in my thinly-veiled idolatry of my hometown Ethiopian joint Little Africa. Once you have a favorite restaurant of a certain type, you constantly find yourself trying to recreate it anywhere else you live or travel. Sometimes that restaurant can live up to the original experience; sometimes it’s different enough that it’s equally good on it’s own footing. That’s how we’ve arrived at Lalibela being our favorite Ethiopian restaurant in Columbus.

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Lalibela is a simple and quiet restaurant in Whitehall on South Hamilton Road. The small parking lot out front is often crammed, but you can find parking next to the grocery one door down. The entryway lands you next to the bar, ringed with bright neon blue lights. You’ll typically find a few regulars – all Ethiopian – sitting around the bar. As a caucasian, I find this to be re-assuring when I’m seeking out ethnic food. When I’m in the minority, I’ve found the right place.

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Either a server or the owner will lead you further back to the dining room. Usually there is music playing, and often the TV in the corner is showing Ethiopian programming. We’ve seen the restaurant busy, but never crowded. The servers are soft-spoken and incredibly friendly. During every meal the owner comes by to check in on you with a big smile and a welcoming handshake.

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We usually visit Lalibela with a group of four to six people, so we order a shared platter of mostly vegetarian dishes. These include things with grape leaves, tomatoes, onions, root vegetables, various lentils, occasionally with a meat dish of stewed beef. We often add a side of shiro, which is yellow peas simmered in veggies and spices.

Ethiopian food is eaten by hand. You tear pieces of injera, a spongy and slightly sour bread made from teff flour, and scoop up individual bites of the food. The entire platter is served on a layer of injera, with extra rolls of the bread served on the side as well. The joy of this type of food is eating together. Rather than sitting hunched over our individual meals, we’re turned toward each other, reaching in and around our arms to scoop up bites from the same plate. This is something I think we can learn to do better in the U.S. We often forget that food is community.

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Lalibela has a full bar as well, and we’ve often ordered one of the Ethiopian beers available. The St. George Beer is a light lager with a honey finish. It’s a perfect complement to the rich and often spicy food.

Like I said, Lalibela is our go-to for Ethiopian food in Columbus. It’s a little bit of a drive, out to Whitehall, but we’ve found that the food and welcome is more than worth it.

If you want to visit:
Lalibela Ethiopian Restaurant
1111 S. Hamilton Rd. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43227
(614) 235-5355
lalibelarestaurant.net
Also on Facebook
Open daily 9a-2:30a
Lalibela Restaurant and Bar on Urbanspoon

Beyond Breakfast: Yesterdog | Grand Rapids, MI

In some ways, I can’t even begin to write about Yesterdog, because it’s such a major part of my upbringing. This little hot dog joint has been around since my dad was younger, so he and my aunts and uncle and grandmother remember going there long before I was born. Yesterdog is one of those decades-old institutions that every city brags on, where regulars flock regardless of how good the food really is. Oftentimes, the less complicated the food, the more people love it. Hot dogs are probably one of the least complicated of American staples, so any visit to a hot dog joint is easily justified by, “Let’s go for lunch” or “Let’s go out with the family” or “Where do we eat at 1 am?” Under that guise I’ve eaten at Yesterdog countless times: parties and family occasions growing up, late night college runs, and now nostalgic visits when we’re home.

Yesterdog is a centerpiece of Grand Rapids’ Eastown district, a budding little neighborhood with brick streets, big murals, and an eclectic mix of shops and bookstores and restaurants (including a very good breakfast at Wolfgang’s). The main entrance is a barely-visible screen door, with your first sign warning you that they are a cash (and oddly, check) only business. Seriously, don’t even ask about using a debit card.

The entryway leads into a long, crammed space facing the “kitchen.” If you’re a regular, you know to shuffle in and wait until the next employee starts taking orders. If you’re a newbie, it can be a little intimidating, because it’s typically packed and people are yelling at you. Some tips on your first visit:

1. Line up to the left if you haven’t ordered. Line up to the right if you have.

2. They’ll start with hot dogs, then do drinks and chips. Don’t even try to customize your dogs. Just order from the menu. Seriously, there are only five hotdogs. Odds are, you’ll find one you like. (Hint: they’re all good.)

3. After they’ve taken all the orders, they’ll collect payment. Remember, cash or check only. Marvel at the employees adding up your order in their heads (I’ve never seen them get it wrong), and then they’ll ring you up at the old cash register complete with real “cha-ching” sound.

While you wait, see if you can sink some coins in the tip jar (upper right corner, above). You can begin taking in all the retro decorations and passive-aggressive signage. The small space is crammed full of them.

5. Remember your order. They make giant trays of hot dogs all at once and bring them to the counter to divvy up into orders. They’ll ask you what you had, so don’t forget.

Then take your tray laden with hot dogs (be careful not to spill your drinks – I speak from experience) and find a seat in the restaurant. Take time to absorb all of the old signs. There are multiple boards filled with photos of customers who got their pictures taken around the world or with famous people while wearing their Yesterdog T-shirts.

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The service may be a little surly at times, but that’s part of the experience. If you’re concerned about absolute cleanliness or about being treated like a king while you order hot dogs, you’re in the wrong place. It’s a hot dog joint, for goodness sakes.

One of the restrooms.

The Yesterdog space hasn’t changed much over time. It boasts big wooden floors, sweeping from the front of the store to the back.

Lots of signs. Old booths. Tin ceiling.

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The booths have been carved up with initials and messages over the years. It didn’t used to be like this when I was younger, but over time it started and couldn’t be stopped. I saw an interview with the owner in which he said they once tried painting and fixing the carvings up, only to have it happen again. Given that the restaurant is run by a small crew and open late into the night, it just wasn’t worth their effort to constantly repaint all of the booths. Too bad, I guess, although it adds some of the “charming” rough-around-the-edges feel.

The hot dogs themselves are boiled and the buns are steamed. The menu includes five items:

Yesterdog: chili, pickles, onion, ketchup, & mustard

Cheddardog: chili & cheese

Veggiedog: cheese, sauerkraut, onion, pickles, ketchup, & mustard

Krautdog: sauerkraut, ketchup, & mustard

Ultradog: chili, cheese, onion, pickles, ketchup, mustard

As you can see: simplicity. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that their ingredients all come from Gordon Food Service. Nor would that stop me from visiting. Aside from the hometown comfort factor, I love these hot dogs because they’re soft and the ingredients are generously piled on. The chili has a little bite to it, the kraut is sour enough, and I love the texture of shredded dill pickles. It’s impossible NOT to make a mess of yourself when eating these (there are stacks of napkins on every table). I typically order a handful of Ultradogs, and they are always, always good. Time of day, time of year, company, occasion, doesn’t matter. I’ll always eat more of these.

Speaking of which, if anyone from Grand Rapids is headed through Ohio soon, let me know…

If you want to visit:
Yesterdog
1505 Wealthy St. SE (map it!)
Grand Rapids, MI 49506
(616) 262-3090

yesterdog.com
Also on Facebook and @Yesterdog1505
Open Mon-Sat, 10:30a-2:30a; Sun, 10:30a-9p
Cash/check only!

Beyond Breakfast: Little Africa | Grand Rapids, MI

I didn’t grow up an adventurous eater. It wasn’t until college and grad school that I began discovering world cuisines beyond Americanized Mexican or Chinese, with the occasional foray into Indian or Japanese food. And my hometown of Grand Rapids, MI isn’t exactly known (or at least wasn’t 10 years ago) as a hotbed of international cuisines. But just as my wife and I were finishing up college, a friend introduced us to a little restaurant just east of downtown called Little Africa. That’s where we first tried Ethiopian food, and it blew us away. Nearly every visit to my hometown includes a stop here to see the owner Loul Negash and enjoy a platter of his vegetarian food. His food is so incredibly rich and flavorful that eating it is almost like revisiting an addiction. I could easily consider Little Africa one of my favorite restaurants of all time.

Saying that sets the bar high, so maybe I should add that hometown restaurants tend to have a special place in my heart. So there’s a comfort factor that other places just can’t replicate. The Little Africa is simple and quiet, a single room with a few rows of booths. Ethiopian music (I’m assuming) plays quietly over the speakers. Loul clatters around in the back.

Every meal starts with tea. Loul serves other beverages, but we’ve never gotten them. Why? Because this tea is a delicious, complex, steaming, crack-laden drink of the gods. It’s hot and heavily spiced. We once tried asking him for the recipe, and he quietly deflected the question (understandably). From what we can taste, there are hints of cinnamon, clove, ginger, mint, and everything else that is delicious in this world.

This is perhaps one of the most beautiful sites in the (culinary) world to me: a fresh platter of Little Africa’s vegetarian fare (they only serve vegetarian dishes, although a lot of Ethiopian cooking does involve meat. But just look at it. The colors. The textures. The variety. Different legumes and vegetables and spices. I couldn’t tell you the name of a single one of these dishes; we just tell Loul that we’d like the vegetarian platter, and he brings out enough for the number of diners. But I know that there are dishes made with lentils, peas, injera, grape leaves, lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, beets. We’ve had items made with pumpkin, too. Probably my favorite of the bunch is the dark orange/brown pile, just above center. It’s made with shredded injera mixed with a fairly hot spice.

Ethiopian food is eaten with your hands. Before the meal, Loul brings out small plastic bowls with a pinkish liquid: a lightly soapy concoction in which you wash your hands. The food is served on top of a bread called injera, made by fermenting teff flour, a grass that’s indigenous to Ethiopia. Injera is moist and spongy and a little bit sour. You tear off pieces of it and scoop up the food.

Ethiopian food is rich with spices and oils, so by the end of the meal the injera is soaked, which keeps any of the deliciousness from going to waste. I have never not left an empty plate for Loul to clean. I simply can’t. There is always more room in my stomach; my tastebuds are always eager for another a bite. My family still makes fun of me for the one time I polished off the leftovers by rolling the injera into a burrito and downing it. But I stand by my decision.

We’ve had other good Ethiopian food, but nothing has come close to Little Africa. Perhaps, because it was our first foray into the cuisine, it automatically became the standard by which we judge all similar fare. Regardless, this food has such special meaning to us, to the point that I think it has healing properties.

If you want to visit (and trust me, you do):
Little Africa
956 E. Fulton St. SE (map it!)
Grand Rapids, MI 49503
(616) 222-1169

Little Africa on Urbanspoon

Beyond Breakfast: Da Levee | Columbus, OH

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For a white kid who grew up in the Midwest, it’s surprising how much spicy cajun and creole cuisine feels like comfort food to me. We never made it growing up, I’ve never been to New Orleans, but as long as I can remember I’ve loved this style of food. I love the heavy load of spices. I love how it’s filling. And I’ve had some great examples, from Creole Kitchen in Columbus to the amazing Bourbon N Toulouse in Lexington, KY. But just as worthy is Columbus’ Da Levee.

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Da Levee has a small storefront in Short North, just north of Buttles Avenue, and in the winter months the warm food and atmosphere make me want to hole up there for hours. It’s probably good that we don’t live closer to Da Levee, because if we did I’d find myself justifying multiple visits per day.

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The specials rotate regularly, so it’s best to keep an eye on their Facebook page. The owner Justin Boehme is good about posting an image of the day’s menu, so it’s easy to find out what they’re slinging. The menu shifts between varieties of etouffee, chowder, red beans & rice, maque choux, gumbo, jambalaya, po boys, and burritos. I’ve never had a bad meal at Da Levee, but my personal favorite is the chili cheese etouffee with crawfish. Here’s a sampling of some of the other dishes we’ve enjoyed:

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Spinach and mushroom etouffee. A good etouffee is probably my favorite dish in the repertoire of creole/cajun food.

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Red beans and rice with sausage.

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Spinach and mushroom etouffee again. All entrees are served over rice, with a side of toasted bread that’s heavily buttered and seasoned. Perfect for scooping up bites.

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White chilikin’, aka white chicken chili.

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Two bonuses about ordering: you can pick small plates ($5), large plates ($7), or half-and-half plates ($8). This lets you adjust to your appetite, and it allows you to easy sample and share with a table full of friends. The second bonus is that many of these dishes are vegetarian and can be made vegan, so it’s an easy go-to with group of varying tastes and needs. Okay, I lied. There are three bonuses, the third of which is that this type of food blends flavors and spices so well. Most dishes are some version of a slow-cooked stew, so the meat, veggies, beans, and heavy dose of spices have time to combine. In single-digit temperatures like today’s, a plate of spicy hot meat and vegetables piled on rice sounds like a bit of home to me.

Aaaaaaaand… now that I’ve finished this post, I’m hungry and want to go there for lunch today.

Plan your own visit:
Da Levee
765-C N. High St. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43215
dalevee.com
Also on Facebook and Twitter @DaLeveeCajun

You can sometimes catch Justin at the Da Levee Express food cart, or during late night hours out the backdoor of the restaurant at Backdoor Burritos, serving Fridays and Saturdays until 3 a.m.

Da Levee on Urbanspoon

Beyond Breakfast: Taqueria El Fogoncito | Columbus, OH

Thanks to the hard-working crew at Taco Trucks Columbus, Columbus residents have had an easier and more enjoyable time discovering the large variety of taco trucks around town. We’ve had the pleasure of exploring many of them, from the group gathered on the southwest side of town, to diverse offerings along Morse Roads and 161, to some closer to home near Clintonville and Victorian Village. One of our favorites has become Taqueria El Fogoncito, located (currently) on the south side of Morse Road, at approximately 2733 Morse (see map here). We’ve visited this truck often enough that our four-year-old Will calls it “our taco truck.” Once, when we forgot to order his chicken taco, one of the cooks asked us if he should prepare Will’s usual. Imagine that, our four-year-old being a regular at a taco truck! I couldn’t be prouder.

We begin our meals at the truck with mandarin Jarritos, the orange-flavored version of the fruit sodas. They come in a range of flavors, although we most often see the mandarin and mango.

Fogoncito’s menu focuses on a handful of Mexican favorites: tacos (with or without cheese), gringas, and tortas. Gringas are the particular specialty at Fogoncito and their sister, both the truck and brick-and-mortar locations of Los Guachos. From our understanding, Fogoncito is owned by a relative of the Los Guachos owners, so they feature many similar favorites. The gringas are a simple open-faced flour tortilla topped with your choice of meat, melted cheese, plus onions and cilantro. Tortas take similar ingredients but sandwiches them between thick slices of bread. Pictured above is our four-year-old’s regular order: a chicken taco with cheese on it.

In addition to the gringas, our favorite is the al pastor tacos. You can order any dish with your choice of meat: chicken, asada (grilled steak), suadero (beef), tripe, campechanas (seafood), and al pastor. Let me make it easy on you: you came for the al pastor.

Al pastor is a preparation that begins with thin, marinated slices of pork stacked on a trompo (pictured above) and is fired on a spit. A pineapple is usually skewered above the meat, so that the fruit juices and fat from the meat saturate the pork, which is turned slowly and seared. At the time of serving, they slice thin strips of the meat from the side. The pork is served with a slice of the pineapple and layered on two corn tortillas, then topped with onions and cilantro.

Garnishes include sliced cucumber, lime, and a very spicy pickled hot peppers. Fogoncito also makes their own red sauce (a type of spicy salsa, I believe) and avocado/cilantro/wonderfulness sauce. I love, love avocado/cilantro sauce on the al pastor tacos and gringas, and am tempted to put it on everything else I eat. Spicy, smooth, sweet, savory. It’s one of those simple dishes that keeps you guessing.

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In November of 2012, Fogoncito moved to its current location on the south side of Morse. In the past it was located further west on Morse, then at the corner of Morse and Westerville Roads, but they were kicked off that location (which is only now being developed). They were closed for some time, so we were very excited when we got word – thanks to Taco Trucks Cbus and some dedicated Twitter fans – that they had re-opened, we visited almost immediately. Above is the current view of the truck from Morse Road. The truck is perpendicular to the road, FYI.

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But they’re back serving up our some of our favorite tacos and gringas in town. Wherever they set up shop, we’ll follow them! As Will would say, it’s “our taco truck.”

ALSO NOTE: They serve two-for-one al pastor tacos on Wednesdays. So if you’re looking for a chance to try them…

If you want to visit:
Taqueria El Fogoncito
Located at 2733 Morse Road (map it!)
Columbus, OH
(614) 900-4784

Beyond Breakfast: Bierberg Bakery | Columbus, OH

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[Update December 2013: Bierberg Bakery will NOT be open this year.]

One of the best things about the Christmas season is the cookies, right? If you’re like me, you’ve got specific memories of Christmas cookies and cookie decorating from your childhood and your adult years. On one of our last free mornings before Christmas, my boys and I were out running errands and decided to stop by tiny Bierberg Bakery in German Village. It didn’t take much convincing to get them in there. Our 16-month-old just learned the word “cookie,” after all, so it was time to put that to use.

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Bierberg is only open two months of the year, in November and December, and they sell a large variety of German cookies that are sold by the pound. When you take their sign down out front, the bakery appears to be just another small house on a side street in German Village.

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The retail part of the bakery is a single, very small room, with tins of cookies lining the shelves. Seriously, visiting Bierberg is like hanging out in a large closet with two older German ladies.

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We ordered an assorted pound of cookies, trusting to them to pic out good ones.

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They weigh it, box it, and wrap up it for you.

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It’s a simple delight to eye tin after tin of Christmas cookies: everything from vanilla to chocolate dipped to gingerbread…

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…some soft and chewy, some crispy and crunchy.

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I honestly couldn’t tell you the name of all the cookies we tried.

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But these gingerbread wafers were some of my favorite.

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We even said hello to the folks in the back, still making cookies. Bierberg isn’t open too much longer for the season, so I suggest calling them to find out when they’re open and making a visit!

If you want to visit:
Bierberg Bakery
729 S. Fifth St. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43206
(614) 443-9959

Bierberg Bakery on Urbanspoon

Beyond Breakfast: Kauffman’s BBQ Restaurant | Bethel, PA

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Okay, one more post related to October’s NYC trip. On our way back from the city, my wife and I swung through eastern Pennsylvania to visit her Grammie. She lives in a very rural area, close to Reading, and nearly every time we visit, we go to Kauffman’s BBQ Restaurant. Kauffman’s (sometimes just referred to as “the chicken place”) is near and dear to our hearts because it serves straight-up comfort food, but even more so because it makes us think of Pop-Pop. He passed away a couple years ago, and this was one of his favorite spots. I still remember the first time we ever went, about six years ago. He was very dedicated to showing us the process of ordering, what to order, and how to maximize your bowl at the salad bar (hint: don’t put too much lettuce in it).

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So needless to say that, while Kauffman’s isn’t fancy by any means, it’s still a very special experience when we visit. The building itself sits on a winding country road, a few towns away from where Grammie lives. That part of eastern Pennsylvania, Berks County, is a series of small, old towns with German names. Driving through that country, you come over a hill outside Bethel and suddenly there’s Kauffman’s, with its long, low building aside a wide parking lot, miniature golf course (I’m not kidding), and a big fiberglass chicken out front.

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I mentioned that we also know Kauffman’s as “the chicken place,” right? Well, before you even get to the menu, you’re treated to a view of racks upon racks of roasting chickens. They turn slowly under the heat, dripping their juices down onto each other and the rows of skewered potatoes lined up underneath.

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On our last visit, Grammie told us that Pop loved seeing these because he once used this same equipment years ago when he ran a poultry shop in Philadelphia.

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Kauffman’s is run cafeteria style. A wall-sized menu hangs on one side of the large entry room.

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Then you step through a small door into a long, thin hallway. You grab a tray and order pretty much directly from the kitchen. Although Kauffman’s serves steaks and fish and sandwiches, the real feature is the chicken. You can order a 1/4 or 1/2 chicken. The platters come with a potato, rolls & butter, plus a run at the salad bar.

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Once you order, you’re given the proper cup for your drink (depending whether you ordered soda or just water), you get your roll and butter plus your bowl for the salad bar, and then you take a number for your meal and find a seat in the expansive dining rooms.

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Soon enough, they call your number and your chicken is ready.

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Look at this beautiful plate of comfort food! Roasted chicken! Fresh rolls! Macaroni salad! Potato filling (aka mashed potatoes and gravy)!

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On this visit, I decided to mix things up and order the chicken croquettes, which are shredded, breaded, fried, and covered in gravy. Again, nothing’s fancy, but the food and – more importantly – the company is the ultimate in comfort.

If you’re in the area and you want to visit:

Kauffman’s BBQ Restaurant (Facebook)
33 Gravel Pit Rd. (map it!)
Bethel, PA 19507
(717) 933-8415
Open Wed-Fri, 4-9p; Sat & Sun, 11a-9p
kauffmansbbqrestaurant.com

Beyond Breakfast: Momofuku Ssäm Bar | New York, NY

It’s funny that, having written the book about breakfast in Columbus, I have some sense of what it takes to get your head around a city and its culinary landscape – at least, one part of it. So when I think of trying to choose places to eat in New York City, I’m completely overwhelmed. Resources like Yelp or UrbanSpoon only go so far in helping you, when every neighborhood might have untold hidden gems tucked down every side street and around every corner, and it’s hard to decipher what’s close to what, or what’s popular versus what’s really worth trying. Thankfully, this is when we get a little help from our experienced and knowledgeable friends. (Thanks, John and Shelley!)

Thus, on our first night in NYC, our sights were set on Momofuku Ssäm Bar. Momofuku is a series of restaurants in New York, Toronto, and Sydney, with six varieties in New York alone. The Ssäm Bar is a slim, dimly-lit corner space in the East Village. We managed to walk right in and find two seats at the bar, where we were greeted by the most helpful and welcoming server. He was very patient with us while we poured over the menu, even when the restaurant filled to capacity almost right away after we arrived.

The space is very comfortable and warm. Low lighting. Low ceiling. Lots of wood accents. Bar seats and then a mix of tables. Brightly lit kitchen space at one end, where you watch the busy crew through the windows.

We first ordered the steamed buns, which came as a pair on the plate. Perfectly soft buns, tend pork belly, with a little sweet hoisin and fresh cucumber. I had to slow myself down and savor every bite.

We followed the steamed buns with the BBQ bun, a single steamed bun with lightly fried pork belly, slaw, and a smokey mayonnaise. Great combination: tangy and creamy, nice contrast between the soft steamed bun and the crunch of the pork and slaw.

But the real capstone of the course was the whole boneless porgy. The porgy, topped with shredded kelp, mushrooms, and herbs, was presented in a giant bowl, and the server poured the hot broth from a tea kettle tableside. We could eat everything but the head and tail (we kept daring each other to eat the eyes). But the actual meat and skin of the fish… oh boy. It flaked apart at the lightest touch, and as we ate, the flesh mixed with the mushrooms and herbs in the broth, resulting in this savory, chunky soup. The dish transformed as we ate it, and with each bite we marveled at the rich, comforting flavors. Finishing with the porgy left us with that “wow” impression, where we kept bringing it up to each other throughout the weekend. That tells you what we thought overall: we’d gladly return, especially to try the bo ssäm or rotisserie duck ssäm, which are slow prepped and served family style.

If you want to visit/connect:
Momofuku Ssäm Bar (Facebook / @momofuku)
207 2nd Ave. (map it!)
New York, NY 10003

Momofuku Ssäm Bar on Urbanspoon

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