I usually like to stick to NYC foodstuffs on donuts4dinner, because anything anyplace else has, NYC has it ten times better, right? Well, not when it comes to food tours, specifically the one I enjoyed with Columbus Food Adventures while visiting my family in Ohio earlier this month.
Not only did we have a progressive meal that started with snacks, dabbled in small plates, and then finished with a full-on entree and dessert, but it was clear with every stop that the company has a real connection to and love of the Columbus food scene. Unlike the NYC food tours I’ve been on, where we were stuck outside while the guide nabbed food from the stores and restaurants for us, we went behind the scenes and into the kitchens of some of the big players in Columbus. I walked away feeling like my podunk hometown is actually pretty savvy!
We started in the North Market, where this sign that really belongs in my Brooklyn bedroom greeted us:
After a brief overview of the tour and an introduction to our guide, we were given a salty, chewy, stretchy, buttery pretzel from Brezel, which was everything I want NYC street cart pretzels to be but never are:
Inside the Market, we strolled along the upper level to take in a rare view of the stalls below, which range from fresh lobster ravioli you cook at home to Vietnamese sandwiches (banh mi in Ohio!) you eat right at the counter they’re prepared on to waffles topped with fruit and chocolate that are best enjoyed on a picnic table on the Market’s porch. We have all of these things in droves in NYC, of course, but in Ohio, they seem more special somehow. It’s so easy in Ohio to eat at chain restaurants and to drive your car to chain grocery stores to buy meat cuts from whoknowswhere that it warms my heart to see people shopping here and supporting these things.
The Greener Grocer:
North Market Spices Ltd., with homemade mixes called things like Blabbermouth:
After a stop at The Fish Guys for samples of both New England and Manhattan clam chowder (little, ol’ tomato-hating me actually loved the Manhattan version!), we walked up the street to Knead, a kind of upscale diner using all of the local ingredients it can get its hands on, for a frittata that looked pretty standard but had this cheese that seemed to bloom with flavor in our mouths:
Next was Le Chocoholique, which has only been around a couple of years but has apparently become THE chocolate shop in Columbus. We tried a lavender chocolate and a salted caramel, but the store was just littered with the most beautiful and tempting selection of chocolates with flavors I’ve only seen in NYC’s highest-end restaurants:
A short walk along Goodale Park took us to Eleni Cristina Bakery, which supplies bread to over twenty of Columbus’s restaurants. We smelled their 25-year-old sourdough starter and all agreed to come back later this month, when they’ll open the bakery as a retail location and begin selling bread to the public.
At Tasi, we bypassed the scores of people waiting in line for Saturday brunch and went straight to the kitchen to eat a steaming bowl of the most flavorful chicken soup:
Then it was on to Rigsby’s Kitchen for a dish of gnocchi bolognese with big, fluffy gnocci, enough meat that it actually deserved to be called a meat sauce, and thick slabs of shaved Parmesan. The dining room was dark and romantic (excuse the grainy picture), but we were allowed in with our jeans and our dirty faces and grubby hands, and no one gave us a second look:
Finally, we ended up at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, which began in Columbus but is now so popular I can buy it in my grocery store in Brooklyn. People I know who aren’t from Ohio and therefore have no nostalgia for it even talk to me about how great this ice cream is, and I’m always like, “Yeah, how ’bout that?” Because I’ve never thought Jeni’s was really all that great compared to my Ohio favourite, Graeter’s.
But Jeni’s is that great. And the tour lets you try three scoops and all the samples you want, so I tried four kinds and chose:
• Juniper and Lemon Curd, which tasted like pine trees and all of the sourness of a lemon condensed into a marble-sized curb blob
• Bangkok Peanut, which is peanut butter and honey with a cayenne kick
• Brown Butter Almond Brittle, which is just what it sounds like and crunchy
I’m officially a fan.
Such a great time, such great food, such a great guide who didn’t bat an eyelash when certain people on the tour felt like they should step in at every stop with extraneous information just to show off how Columbus-y they are, and such a cool new way to see a city I used to know so well. My friends and I can’t wait to try the dessert tour! And the taco truck tour. And the German Village tour. And . . .