Sunday, 28 October 2012

Food, Film and (American) Football: A Chilly Columbus Area Kind of Day

Le Chocoholique was certainly quite creative in dressing up the store for Halloween.
Seven weeks ago, my involvement with food in central Ohio made a distinct shift in terms of my relationship and appreciation for the Ohio food movement in its many varied forms, most notably through meeting members and friends of Slow Food Columbus. One such group I met what seems like ages ago was the Caskey family (Angie, Kevin and Patrick), owners and chefs at Skillet, Rustic Urban Food; after weeks of practically salivating over each of their status updates on Facebook, I was finally able to continue to build on this connection and visit the restaurant in German Village. And thus began yet another foodie day in central Ohio!

Skillet, Rustic. Urban. Food. on Urbanspoon

As I searched for Skillet (which supports Slow Food), I rounded the corner of East Whittier and Beech and saw a line of folks standing in the light rain. Little did I know then just how cozy this restaurant full of life and flavour would turn out to be. After signing in and waiting back outside for one of Skillet's few available tables (no more than 10, offering different seating combinations), I quickly realised as my name was called the many things that are so right with Skillet's set-up. First and foremost, instant community relationship-building around food came by so naturally as the atmosphere of home cooking emmanated from the restaurant each time the door opened, and as the anticipation of getting inside increased against the backdrop of all the great things [and here] that have already been said about Skillet's food. (Check out this clip from WOSUColumbus.)

Second, with the limited number of tables, service became not only customer-focused and clearly familial but plate execution felt expedited with great quality as each plate's elements were given due care and travelled very steps from the kitchen service window to each diner in the adjoining dining room. Third, inside conversation (or even outside convos, for that matter) with "strangers" didn't feel at all strange, and once again the world of food revealed just how small our world actually is. To my right, I met a couple who originally hail from Michigan, while to my left, a Filipino mother was visiting her son (a student enrolled in OSU's Food Science program) for the weekend. Amidst talking about food recommendations, this blog and the work I'm involved in, we all seemed to enjoy our brunchtime choices. Speaking of which, I should note that I initially intended on visiting Skillet for its Farmland Croque Madame, the menu item which made me yearn for their cooking: "a griddled sandwich with smoked cider braised Ohio pork shoulder, pickled red onions, a fried Stoutsville egg, and a farmstead cheddar-hard cider cheese sauce on griddled brioche." Due to the amount of preparation involved with quite a few menu items, items such as the Croque Madame aren't available until 11am; so, guess why I'd have to get back there soon...

Having said all of that, I very much enjoyed the two menu items I did order. As my main brunch item, I went with the apple pancakes which, for future reference, I think are good to order all on their own (or else you need a friend to help you eat them). On the plate set before were two large pancakes with a serving of smooth Ohio maple syrup. Before even cutting into them, take a moment and just smell them. Sure I felt like too much of a food critic in that singular moment of doing so, but just the smell of warm apples and cider folded into the dense and incredibly filling batter was entirely worth it. I'm sure you've heard (or maybe even said) that your food was too pretty to eat; I almost didn't want to eat these pancakes lest I forever lose that gorgeous smell. After I got over that (which was in real time a good 45 seconds), my stomach took over and I heard the perfectly fried exterior crunch with the slice of my knife into the thick pancake

Inside was not only a moist interior but rather something white--the farmer's cheese--which I had for a moment forgotten was part of the batter itself. The cheese added a slightly tangy element to the cider (as opposed to the apples), as well as a richness that was calmed just a touch by the maple syrup. I need to emphasize here that with all of the liquid and soft textures that go into the batter, frying up the pancakes to yield that crunchier textural element is not only impressive but much needed (otherwise you just get a gooey mash akin to semi-baked cake batter). 

But perhaps the star of my duo was the side of grits I ordered; naturally these weren't just any old grits. This was a healthy helping of white cheddar grits topped off with braised beef short ribs (here I go salivating again). Served almost as if it was a dumpling, the grits instantly reminded me of South Africa and well prepared mealie meal (pap). (Like a pancake gone wrong, pap can be tough to stomach because of its bland taste and lack of texture in its consistency.) For me, well prepared pap was highlighted every time it wasn't served by itself, and instead was given a broth, meat and/or veg to go with it. And while I would gladly eat either the grits or the beef on their own, there was a bit of magic that took place while eating both. In that moment, I was transported me back to South Africa and the country which reintroduced me to food as I currently understand it. (And my word, the braising liquid everything sat in was simply perfect.)

Da Levee on Urbanspoon

Last weekend, I was finally able to watch an incredibly brilliant movie, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. After brunch at Skillet, I watched Cloud Atlas which demanded my attention and also blew me away. Three hours later, and as I continued to wrap my head around the fact that nearly every genre of cinema and references (subliminal and direct) to contemporary social issues flowed seemlessly across temporal and spatial realities, I did a bit of windowshopping before getting back into my car in search of food. Quite literally, and unintentionally, I was in search for my second food stop (thrown off in part by the fact that part of the road had been blocked off for Halloween celebrations, and coupled with my dependency on my GPS I was brought to the wrong location a few times as the address was unrecognisable), but eventually made it to Da Levee which I had returned to just a few weeks ago. As was also the case with Skillet, Justin's (the chef and owner) status updates on Da Levee's Facebook page created a bit of a food frenzy for me to return. Ironically, and unfortunately for me, in my quest for the right directions from the movie theatre, I passed by East Whittier before arriving in the Short North just a few minutes later.

It was around 4.30pm by this point and folks were starting to arrive in Columbus and in their holiday gear. Thankfully, I was able to find a pretty good parking spot and walked into Da Levee, hit by the familiar culinary smells and flavours of New Orleans. Before ordering, I sampled The B&B (a relatively sweet veggie option with black beans and caramelised corn) and the maque choux (literally "without cabbage"); and settled on a small plate of the maque choux, an étoufé with pulled chicken which also contained caramelised corn). 

In addition (in reality, I would've been perfectly content with just the maque choux), and because I didn't have any pork at Skillet (which is particularly known for pig), my eyes zoned in on ordering the Mt. Po'. As Justin broughout out "the Mountain of a Po' Boy," my first thought became how in the world do you eat this thing? As I took my first bite, spicy pulled chicken and even spicier Ohio-made, house-seasoned chorizo fell off the baguette and with the shredded lettuce made a great salad on its own. And that's when sour cream finally made sense to me as it cooled down my mouth.

In my previous Columbus post, I made mention of Le Chocoholique and said I would visit the next time I returned to Columbus. And, for dessert, I did just that without regret. As you enter, a brilliant bar for all your chocoholic concoction-type needs greets you, followed closely by the wide array of diverse chocolate confections. 

Individually priced, I chose four chocolate works of art (1, 2, 3, and 4) and tried in-shop the chocolate petit four and limoncello espresso. Given the technical difficulty in making perfect bites which are very difficult to ration out, both were worth every penny not only for their creativity but for the ingredients that went into making them. That said, if there weren't as expensive as they are, I would definitely have tried their many Halloween-specific options.

Shortly after getting back to campus, I joined Molly at what turned out to be Denison's last home game of the season; given the fact I had yet to see a football game since I first started working here, I'd say that was impeccable timing. And given the foodie day that was, I found some retrospective irony in later realising that we tried this wine post-game to finish out the night. For the complete album from yesterday's food, film and football, click here.

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